Lucha Amphitheatre. The Quarterfinals.
A week had passed since the round of sixteen for the freshmen cohort ended. Following that, the year two to year five seniors all competed in their own respective round of sixteen matches, bringing together some of the most entertaining matchups for the entire student body to enjoy. Naturally, for those who made it to the finals, such as Shin and Danroy, they were all focused on their own respective matches and were unable to spectate any of those matches.
Speaking of Shin, the young black-haired boy had been spending almost all of his time analysing and learning about Suji’s martial arts from Isadore. To his utter surprise, not only did Isadore know every single one of the Lasgeor family’s moves, but the silver-haired spearmaster was also proficient in hundreds, if not thousands of other styles. Showing off dozens of potential moves that Suji might employ during his bout, Isadore displayed how much of a master he really was. In fact, Shin even hypothesised that Isadore was as knowledgeable as Mychael, a Spirit King who had decades of experience under his belt.
Like a sponge, Shin absorbed all of the information that was handed down to him, and within two days, he had learnt everything there was to know about the martial arts that Suji might employ. With an added confidence, he turned his sights to a much bigger prey… The indomitable hurdle that no freshmen could ever hope to cross. The Witch in the South, Kanari Saniela.
Unfortunately, even after consulting Isadore, Shin was unable to get a straight answer on how he could potentially defeat the most talented figure that the Himmel Empire had produced. Isadore told Shin that Kanari was not only proficient in the martial arts employed by the Duchy of Highgarden, but also hundreds of other styles that suited her Kumiho fighting style, so much so that even he didn’t know what martial arts she would use. Furthermore, she rarely relied on her close-combat powers to decimate her opponent. Just by using her three innate abilities, the majority of her foes would grovel at her feet, begging for her to spare their lives.
Getting the new information about Kanari, Shin felt a throbbing headache pulsating through his mind. As much as he wished to claim the valedictorian spot, with Kanari in his way, there was possibly no chance of him ever getting that sweet position. Ultimately, Shin decided to focus on the two matches ahead of him before he fully commits to fighting Kanari.
“BOOM!!! BOOM!!! BOOM!!!” Echoes of heavy drum beats resonated throughout the stadium, as the morning birds chirped merrily in tune.
Since there were twenty matches in the quarterfinals event, it was split into two days with freshmen, second, and third-year matches being contested on the first day, and the fourth and fifth years would have their matches on the second. After the two days, the semifinals would be held on its own day, since there were only ten matches left and the overall finals would be held two days from then.
The quarterfinals of the year-end tournament would begin at eight o’ clock sharp, with the freshmen taking the stage first. However, even though there was over an hour until the stipulated time, Lucha Amphitheatre was already filled to the brim, as everyone in the academy eagerly awaited the first match of the day. Why?
“Shin Iofiel versus Danroy Frithron! Place your odds here!” A bookie hollered out from the foot of the stands, hoping to get some of the audience’s’ attention.
“I can’t wait for the match to start! I’ve heard that there was bad blood between the two.” One sixth-year senior gossiped.
“What are you talking about?”
“Earlier on in the year, Danroy challenged the Black-Haired Tyrant when he barely knew any martial arts, because he was jealous about Shin’s cultivation level or something. In the end, Danroy mauled the Black-Haired Tyrant as if he was a broken doll.”
“There was such an incident? Wow, Danroy must be regretting it now huh? Now that he’s so powerful, the Black-Haired Tyrant would love to right that wrong huh?”
“Exactly!!! Also, I’ve heard that Suji Lasgeor, the Son of War, apparently challenged the Black-Haired Tyrant as well. After all, Suji is in the same camp as Danroy.”
“And if the Black-Haired Tyrant defeats Danroy and Suji wins his own match, they would be facing one another?! Haha, what is this some kind of drama?”
“That’s why everyone is so interested in this match!!!”
The gossipmongers among the sixth years joyfully chattered away as the opening match drew ever closer. Back in the contestants resting area, Shin was sitting alone while grasping on the amethyst pendant. Earlier on in the tournament, he had waves of nervousness, that numbed his entire body whenever he thought of the hundreds of eyes that were monitoring his every move. However, after a handful of bouts, Shin had grown accustomed to the bizarre atmosphere, and all that remained was his determination to win.
“Shin, how are you feeling?” While he was in the middle of his prayers, a mystical voice, one akin to that of an angel’s feather, called out to Shin.
“Kanari? I’m doing fine…” Shin greeted the divine beauty with a friendly smile. Even though they were competitors, the two tried their best to block that fact out as they interacted without awkwardness.
“Hehe, then that’s good.” Brushing her skirt, Kanari took the seat next to Shin. “A penny for your thoughts?”
“There’s nothing much to say… I’m just looking forward to my match with Danroy, that’s all.” Shin succinctly replied. At the other corner of the contestant’s resting area, an obese youth was dazed out, staring into space like a lifeless machine. Seated next to him was a sinewy, tanned youth, whose aura screamed confidence, unlike his fellow compatriot, who seemed downcast.
“Hmmm, are you confident?”
“Of course I am… I have been preparing for this match for nearly an entire year…”
“Haha, I see! I see! I’m looking forward to your match then!”
Just as the pair were about to continue on with their ramblings, a loud horn reverberated through the arena, sending shockwaves all around the stadium. The audience members all quietened down as they eagerly waited for the horns to end. After one excruciating minute, the music dimmed down as an announcer stepped out to the podium, bringing smiles to the spectators’ faces.
“It’s starting…” Shin tightened his grip on his hand and took one final glimpse at Danroy. “I’ll finally get to redeem myself.”
“Students of Imperius Academy, members of the faculty, and esteemed guests! WELCOME TO THE QUARTERFINALS!!!” The female announcer beamed in delight and screamed out with great energy.
“OHHHHH!!!” The hyped up crowd all cheered in response. Even though it was early in the morning, the vigour that the spectators showed far exceeded anything that the announcer has ever seen. It was as if all of them had won the lottery and were jumping about in celebration.
“The year-end tournament brings together the best of the combat-course, and all of the remaining contestants have fought tooth and nail for their spot in the final eight. They are the best that Imperius Academy has to offer, ergo they are the best in the entire Himmel Empire!!!”
“That’s right, the matchups that will proceed are filled to the brim with talent, so much so that I’m bubbling with anticipation, just like you guys! Hehe~” The female announcer continued to hype up the crowd, before proceeding to more official information. “For the first segment of the quarterfinals, the freshmen cohort would be competing first. Shall I introduce you to the first four matches?”
“Hehe~ I thought so! Firstly, in the western bracket! We have the first match of the day AND the first match of the year-end tournament QUARTERFINALS!!! The second seed of the tournament would be facing the fifth seed! It is a matchup that everyone here so desperately wants to see… Shin Iofiel VERSUS Danroy Frithron!!!”
At that moment, the crowd exploded as the images of Shin and Danroy appeared on the screen. While the audience was being goaded by the energetic female announcer, a teacher entered into the contestant’s resting area to call out to both Shin and Danroy.
“Shin Iofiel, Danroy Frithron, please follow me. We have to reach the gates before the introductions are concluded.”
“I understand.” Standing up from his position, Shin walked over to the teacher. “Kanari, I’m going.”
“Yeah, good luck!”
As the two contestants gathered behind the teacher, Shin analysed the obese youth standing next to him, hoping to find any flaws that could bring merit to the fight. To his utter surprise, Danroy was completely different from what he expected. His posture was poor, his demeanour screamed out in lethargy, and everything seemed kind of odd.
‘Did something happen to him? Or is he acting this way to force me to drop my guard?’ Shin theorised. In his memory, Danroy was always the indomitable one, and wouldn’t allow himself to degrade to this point, even after a terrifying defeat. In fact, based on Danroy’s character, he would have undoubtedly jeered or taunted Shin as they were heading towards the arena.
Casually walking until the light at the other end of the tunnel was seen, Shin was lost in his thoughts, hoping to figure out what had gone wrong with Danroy. Unfortunately, even after searching through his extensive memory archives that were overloaded with random Danroy facts, Shin couldn’t find anything of note. Eventually…
“Now, let us welcome out our first contestants shall we?” The distinct voice of the female announcer reverberated itself through Shin’s ears, snapping his consciousness back to reality. Taking a glimpse around, Shin found himself right in front of a giant metallic gate.
‘Tssskkk, there’s no time to be daydreaming! I have to focus.’ Shin slapped his cheeks as the gates opened up, revealing the hundreds of filled seat in the Lucha Amphitheatre.
In the quarterfinals, everything was dialled up to eleven. The protective barrier for the audience stands had been improved dramatically, especially after the match between Shin and Natasha showed how dangerous this current batch of freshmen was. The arena had been expanded to twice its original size and was made out of much sturdier material. It had also been enchanted numerous times to withstand damage that the freshmen might put onto it. Finally, instead of one referee adjudicating the match, there were two highly trained teachers and four assistant medics at each corner of the ring, just in case of an emergency and the match had to be forcibly stopped.
Walking to the middle of the arena, Shin took in a deep breath and held the pendant that he loved so dearly. ‘Ariel, give me strength…’
“Alright, both of you! Please state your intent to duel, and we can start with the match.” The head referee stepped before Shin and Danroy, instructing them to do as he said.
“Shin Iofiel. Spirit, The Sovereign Koi. Cultivation Level, Rank 21. Please advise me!” With a resolute expression, Shin bent down in a squat and readied himself in the combat stance that he had personally devised for the match against Danroy.
Already picturing the battle a thousand times in his mind, Shin knew of all the possibilities that Danroy might employ. With his crouched position, Shin would be able to react accordingly to any of the moves that the obese youth might make.
On the other side of the ring, Danroy stood there unmoving. His eyes had turned dim as he struggled to mutter out his intent to duel: “Danroy Frithron. Spirit, Bangeo Rhinoceros. Cultivation Level, Rank 18…”
The referee took one final look at the two boys before slapping his hands together. “Are the both of you ready? If so, LET THE MATCH BEGIN!!!”
Within that instant, Shin summoned out his Spirit and immediately cast his Spiritual Body Enhancement, covering his skin full of fishy cerulean scales that glistened in the morning sun. At the same time, the youth created eight orbs of water, all the size of an overgrown watermelon, and allowed it to orbit around his body.
On Danroy’s end, an earthen light shone out from the depths of his body as an esoteric phantom of a Rhinoceros head enveloped him, protecting him from any harm that might come his way. If Danroy were in his usual state of mind, he would have unquestionably charged forward with a vengeance, sending a path of destruction in his wake. However, the young obese youth wasn’t completely lucid right now and just opted to stay put.
‘So he’s going for a defensive strategy huh? Not unexpected!’ A wry smile crept up Shin’s mouth as he circulated his mana to execute his plan.
Three of the eight water spheres turned dozens of cones that rapidly oscillated like drills and forcibly shot themselves straight at the stationary youth. At the same time, Shin jumped towards the left side of Danroy, and out of his peripheral vision.
Whoosh Whoosh Whoosh
The rapidly swirling cones crashed upon Danroy’s defence, trying their best to break through the thick Rhinoceros head. Unfortunately, the obese youth’s shields were too hard to crack, and Shin’s created water had little effect on the protection that Danroy had cast. Instantly disintegrating into a million water droplets, Shin’s first attack turned out to be utterly useless. However, that was what Shin had expected in the first place.
“HARGH!!!” Within a split second of his water cones dissipating, Shin launched appeared right next to Danroy, and two of his other orbs turned into vicious animal claws that thirsted for human flesh.
“Why is he trying to attack Danroy from the side? Doesn’t he know how tough the phantom barrier Danroy summoned out is?” One person from the crowd thought out loud.
“Perhaps he’s trying to wear it down?” Another spectator wondered.
As the onlookers expected Shin to miserably fail his second attack, an astonishing scene occurred. The Bangeo Rhinoceros phantom, which should have been invincible in its defence, had a hole torn apart at the back of its ear, stunning everyone around, including the caster of the spiritual ability.
“WHAT?!” For the first time today, Danroy changed his expression as he exclaimed in horror. Through sheer instinct, the obese youth mana strengthened himself, in a last-minute effort to protect himself from the oncoming onslaught, and boy did it come.
Shin’s agility and speed propelled him straight towards the defending youth, giving him the chance to execute his Divine Needle Binding technique. Bringing out one silver acupuncture needle, Shin precisely aimed for the Du Mai meridian, hoping to end the match once and for all. However, to his complete surprise, Danroy’s mana strengthening technique was far superior to the average joe’s. Instead of piercing through flesh like it always did, the silver needle bent on impact, rendering it useless from then on.
‘How the-?!’ Shin was stunned. His greatest asset to ending the fight quickly was essentially worthless against the obese youth. ‘Tchhh!!! Looks like targeting the acupoints and meridians of Danroy won’t work!’
Gathering his mana, Shin launched a strong roundhouse kick towards the crown of Danroy’s head, trying to force a concussion. Sent flying dozens of metres, Danroy felt his head spin as he huddled up in a ball like an armadillo. With his mana strengthening, there was no need for him to worry too much about getting hit on his exterior. Rolling on the ground for three seconds, Danroy eventually stopped, giving him a split second to recover.
‘Wait!!!’ However, there was no way that Shin would let his opponent rest when he had the upper hand. An abnormal fear, ones of the likes that was encoded in his genes, forced Danroy to hastily get to his feet. To his horror, Shin was already just half a metre away from him, with his feet raised high as he prepared to execute a deadly stomp.
Being the warrior that he was, Danroy knew that the oncoming attack wasn’t one that he could withstand, like a timid mouse, the youth jumped away with a frantic expression, letting Shin’s heel descend upon the arena.
“BBBBOOOOOMMMMM!!!!” A thunderous echo reverberated through the entire stadium as Shin’s heel broke through the enchanted defences of the reinforced ring, creating an impact crater the size of a vast puddle of water.
‘That… If that stomp were to land on my head, I would be a dead man!’ Danroy assessed the potency of Shin’s attack.
After over a year of intensive training, Shin had perfected and even added enhancements to Mychael’s Seismic Step, and now, it was the boy’s greatest offensive attack. Not only was it powerful enough to destroy structures, but it was also capable of decimating regular expert-grade Spirit Armaments.
‘How? How did he grow so strong in just one year?!’ Danroy angrily cried out in his mind. When they first met in battle, Danroy had the capability of destroying the boy with just one finger. Yet, here he was, running around from Shin, unable to lay a finger on him!
‘How… How did I get to this point?’