Book 5: The Capital || Chapter 64: The Tournament Begins (6)

As the first day and the early rounds of the tournament came to a close, the freshmen were let out of Lucha Amphitheatre and were given four days of rest so that their upperclassmen could have their turns to compete. All of the levels, save the sixth-years since they were about to graduate, had the chance to participate in the year-end tournaments, allowing the freshmen to fully observe what their seniors were capable of. Naturally, those that didn’t wish to join in the action were given free time to do whatever they pleased, and Shin opted to take the break as a chance to prepare himself for the round of thirty-two.

The moment the early rounds were over, Madam Warulee, alongside her trusted staff, had computed all of the results and had generated the final matchups for the elimination rounds. Fortunately for Shin, his friends, Kanari, Shizen, Isadore and the twins were placed in the eastern bracket, which meant that he didn’t have to worry about fighting them for the time being. However, in his own bracket, the western bracket, there were intimidating foes that Shin had to be wary about.

Based on how the bracket was structured, if Shin won all his matches, he would eventually be pitted against Danroy in the quarterfinals and Suji in the semifinals, both of which were tough matches for Shin to overcome. Danroy had beaten him once before while Suji was the absolute combat master of the cohort, second only to Kanari. If Shin wished to retain his salutatorian seat or fight the winner of the eastern bracket for the valedictorian seat, he needed to win every single match in the tournament.

Naturally, since his future matches were made public, Shin further investigated into his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. To reach the finals, he needed to win four matches. In the round of thirty-two Shin was taking on a member from the elite class, who possessed a beast-type Spirit. Judging from the information that Isadore had given him, even though his first opponent was skilled, it wasn’t anything that Shin couldn’t handle.

From the round of sixteen matches, however, that was when the matches started to get tricky. Judging from the draw, there was a high chance that he would face one of the best sword maidens in his cohort. Natasha Aldana, being born to a family of swordmasters, was perhaps the most skilled swordswoman in the freshmen year. Rumour has it that even before she had awakened her Spirit, she was hugging a sword to sleep every single day.

Tales of her dazzling swordplay that would blind her foes echoed through the ears of anyone who knew a little bit about her, and the silver light that her sword emitted, that resembled that of stardust falling from the velvety night sky, earned her the nickname of the Starlight Blade. 

To fight against Natasha would be a challenge in its own right, but if he succeeded, there were still two monsters waiting for Shin in the quarter and semifinals.

“As much as I wanted to save my Divine Needle Binding for Suji, if I faced Natasha, I would probably be forced to use it.” Shin raised the elementary-grade needles that Professor Quinn had given to him as he planned out the best methods to defeat the sword maiden.

Regarding martial arts, Natasha was clearly superior, and with her Starlight Katana that could cut through buildings as if it were butter, Shin was at a severe disadvantage at close quarters combat. His best chance of defeating Natasha was to overwhelm her with his blinding speeds and perhaps send long-range attacks using his acupuncture needles. However, that was easier done than said. At Rank 17, Natasha was only four ranks lower than Shin, and her mana strengthening was perhaps on par with his own. With over fifteen years of swordsmanship training under her belt, Natasha could easily track Shin’s movements with her trained eye and deflecting projectiles with her katana was just second nature to her. 

Nonetheless, Shin was excited to face the infamous Starlight Blade, and it wasn’t because she was a pretty face. It was because of Junius.

“The next time I face him, what lengths would he have reached with his Azure Water Blade?” Shin pondered. “Would he be as strong as Natasha? Or would he be an entity that’s far superior to the Starlight Blade?”

In the future, Shin was confident that he would cross paths with his once beloved elder brother once more. At that point, there was no question that Junius would have grown exponentially in power. If Shin wished to knock some sense into the bastard that was his elder brother, Shin needed to know how to deal with even the most skilful of swordsmen, and defeating Natasha was an excellent first step.

“Natasha’s swordplay is quick and light. Using her light elements, she ensures that her opponent doesn’t see her sword for the majority of her attacks. So it would be a question of how well I can evade her swordplay huh?” As Shin read out the notes he had on Natasha, the boy started to analyse her style and formulate the best possible approach to take the Starlight Blade down. Fully engrossed into his studies, the black-haired boy continued on into the thick of the night, hoping to find the best answer to deal with the adept sword maiden.

“Bang! Bang! Bang!” As the clock struck midnight, three loud bangs echoed through his dorm room, breaking the youth out of his concentration. 

“A visitor at this time?” Shin tightly shut his book and put down his pen. Opening the door to his room, he stuck his head out to check who had arrived at this ungodly hour. However, the moment a gap opened up, a furry white creature pounced into the room and slammed the black-haired boy straight down onto the floor.

“Hah… Bingbing, you really need to stop doing that you know. One day you could get him hurt.”

“Master! You’re here!” Shin exclaimed in delight. During the second half of the year, where he had much more freedom to do as he liked and not attend classes, Shin often took trips back to Lady Seph’s mansion, just to catch up with his beloved master and family members. Since Lady Seph didn’t want to bring too much of a commotion to herself, she often locked herself up in her personal abode, spending her days researching and working on her cultivation. Thus, it was rare to see her out in the open like she currently was.

“Aren’t you supposed to study the tablets that were left behind by Spirit Immortal Dream? What are you doing here, at the academy?” Shin enquired. The last time he visited the mansion, Shin was denied entry to Lady Seph’s laboratory as the blonde beauty was fully submerged into investigating the relics of the famous Mind-Elemental Spirit Immortal.

“Can’t I support my beloved disciple as he tried his best to win in a tournament?”

“You were watching?!” Shin jerked in shock as his eyes sparkled. 

“Of course! From the start to the end!” Lady Seph beamed as she closed the door behind her and helped Shin get back onto his feet. Resting both her hands on Shin’s shoulders, Lady Seph recalled the two matches that Shin had fought in and how much suffering he must have had to endure to get to that point. Bringing the black-haired boy firmly into her embrace, Lady Seph comforted Shin while giving out a rare praise.

“You did exceedingly well, my child…”

“Master…” Bowing his head down, Shin felt a wave of reassurance fill his entire body. A warm feeling nuzzled in the middle of his heart as his eyes started to mist. Throughout his tenure in the academy, Shin had worked hard from day to night. Whether it was studying, cultivation or simply training his martial arts, Shin never slacked off for one moment. However, even the most resilient of warriors would get tired, and even the toughest of men needed the comfort of home.

The duo remained in each other’s embrace for a solid minute, before Shin let go of the blonde beauty. “Master! Can you really come out in the open? Won’t there be people from High Society that recognise you?!”

“A little too late for that, Shin. I’m guessing everyone in High Society knows that I have returned…” With a bitter smile, Lady Seph scratched her face as if she was a child that had been caught doing a misdeed.

“What?! Have they caused any troubles for you?!”

“No… Tenshin was firm about that ruling. So, in the near future, I doubt that there would be any more disturbances.”

“Tenshin?” Hearing the unfamiliar name, Shin cocked his head in confusion.

“Oh, right. You don’t know him. Tenshin is the current Himmel Empire’s Sovereign Emperor.”

“WHAT?!?!?!” Shin raised his voice unknowingly, causing the room to vibrate minutely. Only after he screamed out, did he realise his volume and covered his mouth immediately. “The Emperor met you?”

“Yeah, I didn’t tell you? We brokered out a deal where I don’t bother him, and he will protect me from the Imperial Courts.”

“I see… So that’s why you’re comfortable with coming out in the open…” Shin rubbed his chin while petting Bingbing, who had found a cosy spot on his lap.

“Right, Shin. I have a question to ask you.”

“What is it?”

“Are you familiar with Kanari Saniela, the heiress of the Highgarden Duchy?”

“Yeah, what about her?” 

“What’s your relationship with her?”

“Huh?” Confused that Lady Seph was asking such a weird question, Shin furrowed his brows in confusion.

“I’ve met the Duchess of Highgarden you see… She said that her daughter, Kanari, has tried to recruit you. She also said that they two of you frequently hang out together.”

“Ah, right… Kanari has invited me to join her Duchy many times. But I always turned her down. After all, we didn’t come to Imperius Academy to get into politics.” Shin proceeded to explain everything that had happened since he first came into the institution. From the first time that Kanari met, to how Elrin joined in the fun. 

“So for now, we are just friends that hang out to study and exchange notes. Kanari has even given me pointers on how to improve my martial arts, and I give her tips on how to study for the exams.”

“I see…” Lady Seph gazed into the distance, unsure if she should carry on the conversation. As much as she wished to protect Shin from the dangers of the world, the boy was growing up at an exponential rate, and there will come a time where she could no longer keep him under her wing.

“Master?” Sensing that something was wrong, Shin leaned forward, his eyes shining with an inquisitive light. “What’s wrong?”

“Hah… Shin, please listen.” Tapping on the thigh of the black-haired boy, Lady Seph let out a deep sigh as she resigned herself to tell Shin everything.

“Shin, remember the day when I asked you to attend Imperius Academy?”

“Yeah? What about it?”

“Actually, there’s another reason why I needed you to come to the Capital. Even though I hated the politics of this place, I knew that it was the only option if I wished to protect you.” Lady Seph bit her lip as she remembered the day where Aldrich’s Keep fell. Back then, Commander Alwig had warned her that once the Lantis Republic finds out of Shin’s existence, they were sure to do everything in their power to reclaim the boy.

“You have the blood of the Longyu Clan flowing in you. There’s no doubt about it, since Longyu Yuan, the founder of the Awter Clan, was exiled by the Lantis Republic.” Bringing out a manual from her purse, Lady Seph flipped through the pages until she found a particular page, that had been marked with a blue sticker.

“Initially, I thought that having you sheltered under the Capital’s umbrella would be the best protection from the advances of the Lantis Republic. However, as I delved deeper into the history of the Eight Scions of Water, I realised that I had made a huge oversight…”

“…” Shin gulped down a mouthful of saliva as he listened to his master attentively.

“Shin… Your Spirit isn’t just a mere Sovereign Koi… Your Spirit bears the Mark of the Celestial Dragon!” Lady Seph handed the manual over to Shin so that he could read all of her findings himself. 

“Spirit Users that possess the Mark of the Celestial Dragon are essentially children of water themselves. Their comprehension ability is absurd, they cultivate at a shocking rate and when baptised by the Celestial River, their powers would at least double or triple.” Lady Seph gave a brief summary as Shin carefully flipped through the pages. “Also, they are perhaps the most valuable assets that the Lantis Republic possess. In fact, the Spirit Saint that presides over the Longyu Clan is a cultivator that had awakened the Mark of the Celestial Dragon!”

“…” Unaware of how he was going to process this new information, Shin kept silent as Lady Seph continued on rambling.

“When those Elders in the Lantis Republic discover your existence, not only would they send their forces over to try and claim you, but they might even threaten to wage war on the Himmel Empire to procure your powers!”

“Master… What are you getting at?”

“Shin… Right now, you have a few options ahead of you. Firstly, you could stay at Imperius Academy to finish your training. Once you’re done, you MUST join one of the major powers in the Empire, such as the Imperial Family or the Duchy of Highgarden, to gain an entity that would protect you…”

“But weren’t you against the politics of the Capital?!” Shin rebutted.

“Yes, I am… But there’s no other way. Unless you would want to simply join the Lantis Republic. However, I would highly recommend you do otherwise.”

“Why?”

“Just like the Himmel Empire, the Lantis Republic has its own share of politics, one of the likes that I have no jurisdiction in. If you stayed in the Himmel Empire, if you were to run into any troubles, I could at least use my influence to protect you. However, I have no power in the Lantis Republic!” Lady Seph explained herself. “Not to mention, if you defect over to another member of the three superpowers, the Himmel Empire would be sure to blacklist you!”

“Master…” Shin was taken aback. While he was innocently taking advantage of the resources of Imperius Academy, Lady Seph was doing her best to protect him from the shadows. ‘To think that she had planned that far ahead for me…’

“There’s also one final option. Is that you abandon your current path, and I’ll hide you in the Healer’s Association. No matter how desperately they want you, there’s no way that the Lantis Republic would risk attacking a neutral entity and gain the ire of the other two superpowers.”

Laying down all of the possible paths that Shin could take from here on out, Lady Seph sat down and waited for her disciple’s decision. 

“So… What say you?”

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