Imperius Academy. Lucha Amphitheatre.
As the year quickly came to a close, students from all over the academy heaved a massive sigh of relief as their final tests and assessments concluded. Some were agonising over their poor results, while others were celebrating the fact that they had survived the year. However, even though there was a myriad of emotions at play, a sense of anticipation could be felt lingering in the air. Since the academic year was almost over, that meant that there was still one final event that the school has yet to have. The year-end tournaments.
Having students from all walks of life compete in the year-end tournament was something that the upper management Imperius Academy highly recommended. To determine who was the absolute strongest in the institution, and to provide entertaining matches for the masses, the institution would spend a significant amount of time planning the year-end tournament, making it an event on par to those projected in the Colosseum.
“BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!”
Echoes of drumbeats reverberated through the still air as the Lucha Amphitheatre was filled to the brim with boisterous spectators. Students from the event committee were busy hammering down on the animal hide drums that were twice the size of a regular human, putting on a performance in preparation for the opening ceremony. Even though the year-end tournaments of Imperius Academy was a highly sought after event, only students and invited guests were allowed into the campus to witness the grandeur of the stage.
“It sure is getting loud…” Shizen complained with a drowsy expression. As someone who hated long-form activities, the reddish-brown haired boy loved to stay indoors and nap. A much different activity compared to what he was doing now, seated under the blistering hot morning sun while enduring the high humidity.
“Just bear with it for a while. Soon it would be our turn after all…” Shin despondently replied the petite boy.
The year-end tournaments start off with the first-years competing and end with the sixth-years closing the whole event. Naturally, due to the sheer number of students that were going to participate in the event, the Lucha Amphitheatre was split into sixteen areas where the students could compete with one another. Furthermore, there was a sophisticated seeding system in play where the top thirty-two seeds would never face each other in the early rounds of the tournament.
Once the first elimination round was concluded, the next knockout stage would commence, and the cycle would repeat itself all the way until the final round, where the seeded system wouldn’t matter as matches would be decided through a lottery. Therefore, for Shin, who was currently the number two seed, there was no need to panic in the early stages of the knockout stages. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop him from being anxious.
Gripping the amethyst pendant that hung around his neck, Shin tried to find comfort while trying to ease his heartbeat. “Ariel, give me strength…”
“Ariel? Who is that?” Hearing the unfamiliar name, Shizen cocked his head in confusion as he watched his partner.
“No, it’s nothing… Let’s watch the opening ceremony.”
“…” Although he wanted to probe even further, being someone who lived off his instincts, Shizen’s gut feeling was telling him to cease all questioning into the matter, causing him to unwillingly focus his interest elsewhere. “The VIP stands look well ventilated… Why can’t we go there?”
Staring high up into the stands, Shizen noticed that the VIP stands, which were created for the Principal, the faculty and esteemed guests, had been well sheltered from the universal and resplendent sun.
“We aren’t important people, Shizen. We’re just students.”
“I want to stay in a cool, ventilated area!”
“Honestly, I don’t know how you survived for so long on this earth…” Shin raised his brow as he let out a dismal sigh. “Here, give me your flask. I’ll give you a refill…”
“Yay! You’re the best, Shin!” Pushing the special bottle that Elrin had given him straight to Shin’s chest, Shizen broke out into a beaming smile, as if his earlier melancholy was a lie. Once Shin unwillingly topped him up, the young boy fell to his seat as he gulped down the nectar from the heavens as if he were a baby savouring his mother’s milk.
While he left Shizen to continue on relishing in bliss, Shin turned his gaze upwards and tried his hardest to peer into the VIP stands. Unfortunately, even with his improved eyesight, there seemed to be something obscuring his vision and Shin couldn’t get a clear look at everyone who was inside.
‘Perhaps it’s some enchantment that denies vision?’ Shin theorised. It made sense that Principal Erudito would want to protect the identities of the esteemed guests that the academy had invited. After all, some of them might be the institution’s top donors, or they could be influential figureheads in society.
‘I wonder if Master is there?’ Shin thought to himself before turning his attention back to the centre stage. Even though he was curious, the more important task at hand was to focus on his oncoming fight, which could occur at any moment once the opening ceremony had concluded.
“Bingbing, do you think he saw us?”
A young blonde woman was conversing with her pet gerbil at the moment where Shin raised his eyes to the VIP booth. Unbeknownst to the boy, he had actually met the gaze of Lady Seph while he was blindly examining the elusive stand, causing the Spirit Venerate to jerk slightly in shock.
“Nah, it must have been a coincidence.” Lady Seph denied her own assumption as she adjusted the crystal earrings that she had bought specifically for this occasion. Not one to dress up for functions of High Society, Lady Seph was uncomfortable with the high heels and tight white robes that Principal Erudito had chosen for her. Adjusting the black fur sleeves, the heavenly beauty found a seat that was nearest to the transparent window and made herself comfortable.
In the past, whenever she was invited to events such as these, Lady Seph would immediately become the guest of honour and many people would rush to shake her hand. However, since her promotion to the Spirit Venerate realm, her gorgeous looks had been restored, and not many members here could recognise her, and she was perfectly fine with that. For today, she was just a mere spectator, acting like a proud parent who wanted to see the spectacular performance of her child. Of course, for someone as famous as Lady Seph, there was bound to be one or two meddlesome individuals that had the capability of identifying her.
“Venerate Seraphim! It has been a long time.”
“Hmmm?” Turning her back to the origin of the voice, Lady Seph was greeted by the sight of a black-haired woman, who seemed to be in her late thirties, sashaying her way to Lady Seph’s position.
Donned in a full ebony coloured conservative dress, the woman smiled with an amiable disposition, wearing the standard politician’s expression throughout her face. Her woollen shawl covered her entire neck, hiding the milky and tender flesh within. On her left hand, a gorgeous wedding ring lay on her fourth finger, and she did well to constantly flash it in the eyes of whoever she met.
Taking a seat next to the blonde beauty, the woman gestured for her two bodyguards to stand further away, so that she could have a nice private conversation with Lady Seph.
“Duchess of Highgarden… Fancy seeing you here.” Lady Seph scoffed mentally in her mind but did well to hide her discontent about finding someone who apparently knew of her identity. Furthermore, judging as to how the Duchess called her ‘Venerate,’ Lady Seph could guess that the noble had done some digging about her current circumstances.
Kanari’s mother, the Duchess of Highgarden, was perhaps one of the most feared individuals in the Himmel Empire outside of the Imperial family. Governing over an entire Duchy, the woman attained her Spirit Venerate status when she was just eighty years old, making her one of the youngest Spirit Venerates alive. Her benevolent rule was aided by her commoner husband’s sharp mind, making the Highgarden Duchy one of the wealthiest lands the Himmel Empire has ever seen. Being powerful in both cultivation and influence, not many people would dare to cross the Duchess of Highgarden, and many even kept a safe distance away from her, lest they stepped on her dragon’s tail. However, Lady Seph wasn’t one to cower away from a threat.
“My daughter is attending this year’s freshmen cohort as well. So I’m here to support her.”
‘As well? So she knows about the relationship between Shin and me?’ Lady Seph was taken aback by how much the Duchess truly knew, but kept her stoic expression lest it served as a weak point for the cunning fox of a noblewoman to exploit.
“So I’ve heard… You must be very proud, having such a talented daughter like Kanari.”
“Haha, she does make me grin in my sleep every once in a while, but I’m nowhere close to your level… Gaining the favour of one of the most outstanding talents the world has ever seen.”
‘I knew it! She knows about Shin!’ Lady Seph screamed out mentally. “You…”
“There’s no need to be startled. My daughter has told me everything about him.”
“Your daughter?” Lady Seph was confused. Although it made sense for the Duchess of Highgarden to order an extensive investigation of Lady Seph’s background, what did her daughter have to do with anything related to Shin?
“Yeah, she had made friends with your disciple, and they often spend time together to train.” The Duchess explained everything that she knew to the perplexed blonde beauty. “Venerate Seraphim, I know that you hate to meddle in politics and I have a general idea on why you have sent your disciple to Imperius Academy. However, you should know that you can’t shelter him forever. There will come a day where his talent would be broadcasted to the world and legions of organisations would come to poach him.”
“So, I implore you. When the day comes, please don’t try to dissuade him from joining our Duchy.” Finally getting to the gist of why she came over to greet Lady Seph, the Duchess of Highgarden stared deep into the eyes of Lady Seph, flashing her gorgeous pair of ruby-like eyes in the process. “If he denies my daughter’s invitation himself, so be it. However, if he gets influenced by the shadow of someone else’s past grievances, wouldn’t that be unfair for my daughter?”
“That’s all I have to say, Venerate Seraphim. I think that you know what I mean.” Bowing her head down to the blonde beauty, the Duchess of Highgarden stunned every spectator in the room.
To think that the notorious noblewoman would be lowering her head to an unknown blonde beauty. Being members of High Society, the spectators’ minds immediately went into overdrive to figure out the identity of the enigmatic woman who was just conversing with the Duchess. Factoring her appearance and the Kamaitachi that was on her lap, it didn’t take long for the spectators to recognise who the blonde beauty truly was.
“Ah, looks like I have caused a mess… Please pardon me.” Realising her blunder, the Duchess stood up and was prepared to return to her designated chair. However, before she could leave, Lady Seph’s annoyed voice halted her movements.
“Wait! How much do you actually know?”
“Enough for me to make a move.” Flashing a haughty smile, the Duchess of Highgarden left the area, leaving a stumped Lady Seph behind to ponder over the meaning of her words.
‘Tch, she got me good…’ Lady Seph clicked her tongue in irritation. ‘That’s why I hate dealing with crafty nobles! Urghh, it’s all Shin’s fault!!! The next time I meet him, I should grill him about his relationship with Kanari!’
As she made that assertion, Shin felt a cold shiver run down his spine, something that he hadn’t felt in a long time.
‘What was that?’ Shin asked himself. ‘I guess I am getting rather nervous…’
Now that the opening ceremony had concluded, the first contestants were called up to the stage, and the first bout had finally commenced. For the early stages, the first matches were all ten minutes long, with a winner being decided via knockout, decision or one student throwing in the towel. Of course, during the later parts of the competition, the rules would be altered accordingly, but for now, those were the only three ways that a student could advance in the tournament.
“Next matches, Lydia Abbott versus Miguel May. Marc Stegen versus Jeanne Darren…” As the first matches came to a close, the announcer started to call the names of the next thirty-two contestants that were supposed to participate in the following matches. “Shin Iofiel versus Edgar Pollen!”
“It’s my turn already?!” Shin gasped under his breath. He hasn’t had enough time to mentally prepare himself yet.
“Oh, it’s your turn, Shin?” Once he heard his friend’s name being called up, Shizen immediately snapped out of his dazed state. “Good luck out there!”
Jumping to his feet, the black-haired youth sauntered forward as a jittery feeling enveloped his whole body. Cold sweat began to form on his palms, and his feet began to wobble. Climbing up onto the stage, where the referee was waiting for him, Shin tried his best to hide his anxiety, but unfortunately, with hundreds of eyes staring down at him, it only served to amplify the tension that he had built up for himself.
It was at this moment where he grasped the amethyst necklace that hung around him, allowing himself to give him some semblance of security in the midst of a foreign environment. ‘Ariel, give me strength…’
O.o something has changed? I wonder what it is…