The freshmen semifinals came to a satisfying close, with both matches being a contender for match of the year. Shin and Suji tactical game of chess where one move was backed up by a thousand others gave the audience a glimpse of how high-ranked cultivators would fight when they were evenly matched, while Kanari’s dominance further cemented her legacy as one of the greatest talents of the generation.
Nonetheless, while the matches were tantalising to watch, the blowback caused by Shin’s spectacular display had sent shockwaves all around the nation. Fifteen years old. Awakened The Sovereign Koi. Healer by the age of thirteen. Disciple of Venerate Seraphim. Defeated Natasha Aldana, Danroy Frithron and Suji Lasgeor. All these were nouns granted towards the young black-haired youth.
Nothing was spared as the entire Empire’s investigative powers were used to dig up every detail about Shin. All of a sudden, Shin was the hottest topic in town. Hordes of delegates from Duchies and top organisations flooded Imperius Academy, hoping to catch a glimpse of the boy known as the Black-Haired Tyrant. However, Shin had been sent to an undisclosed location, and a gag order had been placed by Principal Erudito, the Duchess of Highgarden, and to everyone’s surprise, the reigning Emperor, to prevent the location of Lady Seph’s abode from leaking.
As much as they wished to form relations with the new talent, who was said to have rivalled Kanari’s, the delegates were forced to bite their tongue and reluctantly retreat.
The Lasgeor family, who found their son bound with the dreadful Divine Needle Binding technique, was forced to swallow their indignation as the brought over a Registrar to remove the shackles that Shin had placed onto Suji. After admiring the exquisite style of Shin’s technique for a minute, the plump Registrar knocked Suji unconscious and proceeded to unbind the youth from his terror.
It was a shameful event for the Lasgeor family. Not only did their heir lose an all-out battle with a boy of his similar age, but he was also bound to the extent that an expert had to be called in. Suji’s mother, the Lasgeor family’s madame, was evidently enraged. She swore to tear the perpetrator of her son’s suffering, limb from limb, while the calm patriarch sat quietly on his throne.
“Gaji! I say we bring our forces and force that bitch to hand over the devil spawn! We can’t waver, lest the world thinks that we’re a bunch of weaklings!” Suji’s mother angrily screamed out.
“Shut it, my love… Our opponent is a Spirit Venerate… Not to mention, the boy who put Suji in this condition is now the Empire’s new rising star.” Gaji folded his arms, showing off all of his densely packed muscles.
“So what if she’s a Spirit Venerate?! Your grandfather is also one! Furthermore, she’s just a healer while the ancestor is a pure fighter! We can do this!”
“My love, you’re blinded by your hate. Think rationally for once, would you? Do you honestly think that grandfather would move for such a petty reason?”
“If I can gain an audience, I’m sure I can convince him! We can’t let the harm done by Suji go unanswered!!!” Suji’s mother face had turned vermillion as her speech rose by three octaves. Her fangs were in full view and the reddened eyes that spent hours misting up about her son’s condition had clouded her vision and judgement.
“I have heard enough! Suji’s not dead, and based on eyewitness accounts, the fight was completely impartial. Additionally, Suji had severely injured the black-haired boy while he was going down. At least, even till the very end, he had shown dignity.” Gaji revealed a rare smile as he brushed the unconscious youth’s hair. “If he can’t have the face to handle one defeat, how can I trust him to serve our motherland?”
“Tsskkk, if you put it that way, how can I refute you Gaji?” The middle-aged woman clicked her tongue and sat on the bed that Suji was lying on. With loving eyes, the mother gently caressed her son’s face. “Hah… He’s grown up so well.”
“Yeah… The burden of being the Lasgeor family heir, the burden of being my son must have driven him to extremes…” Gaji frowned as he recollected his own youth. Back then, the stress weighed down on him by the elders and his own immediate family had pushed him to the brink. It was only after he matured many years later that he started to gain control over his emotional state.
“It’s a phase that he would have to learn to deal with. There’s nothing wrong with losing, it’s what he does after that will define him.” Gaji got off his son’s bed and straightened his back. Almost instantly, his eyes glistened in a fierce light, and the calm, fatherly figure that he had displayed all but disappeared.
“Where are you going?” Suji’s mother enquired. She had been with her husband for decades now. She knew all of the expressions that Gaji had and could instantly tell that the Lasgeor family head had switched gears. Instead of the image of the loving patriarch that everyone knows, Gaji had put on his most solemn face. Yes, it was rare, but Suji’s mother had seen that face before. It was the face of Gaji before he went to war.
“Even though we can’t do anything to him, I can at least see his face right? The face of the boy that put my son in bed.”
Not willing to continue this conversation, Gaji stomped out of his son’s room leaving his wife to tend to the needs of their unconscious son.
“Hmph! You scolded me, but you’re no better! Stupid overprotective father!” Even though Suji’s mother was chiding her husband behind his back, her expression didn’t match her words as the brightest smile crept up her cheeks.
Himmel Empire. Lady Seph’s Abode. Two Days Later.
Once the final match of the semifinals had been determined, it was time to announce the contestants that would compete in the coveted Grand Finals. For the second to fifth years, there were not many surprises. Those who did well in the past continued to push past their limits and performed exemplary. For instance, in the second years, Angie Allen and Lyanna Craig, who were the top two students in their cohort, had made it all the way to the finals and were contesting for the second time this year.
Taking out all of the predictable matchups, the one that truly stood out the public was the finals for the freshmen. Kanari Saniela versus Shin Iofiel. One was already an established name in the Empire. Her powers were considered to be the best in her generation, and everyone believed that she was untouchable. However, the appearance of a certain black-haired boy flipped that notion altogether.
Not only was he at the Spirit Core realm, but he had developed a plethora of his own techniques to take on monsters such as Natasha, Danroy and Suji. Furthermore, he was also a registered healer from the Healer’s Association, and he had prior experience in a great battle in the form of Aldrich’s Keep.
On paper, Kanari’s abilities seemed to tower over Shin’s. However, when all of the factors were taken into account, the Black-Haired Tyrant trumped over Kanari’s accomplishments a hundred times over. Hence, everyone was eager to witness the final that pitted the two one in a million genius against each other.
Would the Witch in the South keep her throne and reign supreme? Or could the Black-Haired Tyrant pull out an upset to oust the queen? Everyone was on the edge of their seats.
Unfortunately, that dream wouldn’t come to pass. At least, for the moment.
The battle with Suji had literally sucked the blood out of Shin’s system, and the youth wasn’t in any condition to compete with his full strength. It would take days for the lost blood to be replenished to an optimal condition, even with Shin’s absurd self-healing body working at maximum capacity.
Therefore, even though he wished to contest for the valedictorian position, Shin decided to sit out this year. Fighting against Kanari when he wasn’t a hundred per cent was a formula for a one-way ticket to hell, and furthermore, keeping the salutatorian seat was enough for the youth
Since Shin had withdrawn from the competition, Kanari was automatically crowned champion as she won via no contest. It was perhaps, the most anti-climatic finals in Imperius Academy history.
During the freshmen coronation ceremony, Kanari stood in her natural habitat, at the centre of the stage, basking in the limelight that everyone had shone onto her. From a tender age, Kanari had been climatised to the neon lights that would follow her around like glue, thus standing on a stage with thousands of eyes watching her didn’t sour her mood at all. In fact, she was letting her mind wander while the ceremony was still ongoing.
‘Do I really deserve the valedictorian spot?’ Kanari thought to herself.
Her grades were exemplary while her combat abilities were in a realm of itself. There was no doubt that she had the capabilities of claiming the most coveted position in the entire academy. However, if she were to compare herself to Shin, Kanari could help but feel inferior. Being part of his group, she had personally seen how studious and crazy Shin was in improving himself. So much so, that he managed to grow from a person that Danroy could toy with, to a warrior that bested three of the academy’s best freshmen.
Just based on that fact alone, Shin should be the one wearing her crown. Kanari thought back to the time where she claimed to Shin that the Highgarden Duchy was the boy’s best bet to achieve his hopes and dreams. However, based on Shin’s growth, it wouldn’t be surprising if he surpassed her within the next five years. Heck, give him a few decades and Kanari was sure that his name would tower over the Highgarden Duchy.
‘To become a leader that is worthy of having Shin, I can’t continue down this path. I have been too laid-back, I have been too sheltered.’Kanari clenched the gold medal that had been bestowed upon her by Principal Erudito. Her knuckles were shaking so hard that it had started to turn white.
‘I have to grow… If I want to obtain Shin, I must become the strongest leader the world has ever seen!’ Kanari declared.
‘However, first things first… I have to learn more about him. The Awter Clan, the Frie Clan, Ariel Frie… I must know everything!’
“Miss Kanari… We meet again.” A calm and husky voice interrupted the girl’s train of thoughts, forcing her to jerk slightly.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you.” The voice hurriedly turned worried as he apologised to the ethereal beauty.
“Fred Newton… What do you want?” Recognising the face that tried to woo her thirty-seven times, Kanari frowned and sharply called him out.
“Miss Kanari, you sure like to cut to the chase…” Fred smiled brilliantly as he tried to close in the distance. However, just as he was able to smell the sweet fragrance that came out from the girl, killing intent, one of the likes that could suffocate him to death, came from the stands.
Turning his head, the Rank 27 Spirit Core fourth-year caught eyes with a tall dark-haired woman, who was dressed in a butler’s attire. She wore a neutral expression, but something in Frank’s gut told him that if he moved just an inch closer, his entire body would be ripped to shreds.
“Haha… Could you ask your guardian to quell her bloodlust?” A bead of sweat dripped down Fred’s forehead as he reluctantly took one step back.
“… State your business, Fred Newton.”
“No, it’s nothing… I just wanted to congratulate you as a fellow victor.” Seeing that Kanari had no ideas on calling off her guardian’s pressure, Fred tried his best to regain his placid expression. “Also, I was wondering if you were free this weekend? To celebrate our victories, that is…”
All this while, Fred has never forgotten about Kanari. Even after a multitude of rejections, the youth still remained hopeful. Hopeful that his conviction would somehow move the Ice Queen. Alas, if only it were that simple.
“Fred… You know, I think I owe you an apology…”
“Hmmm? Why do you need to apologise?”
“Each time I rejected you, I have always harboured a seed of faith. Your talent is indisputably one of the best in the younger generation, so I had always hoped that you would come to your senses, and join my camp without that ridiculous request. So even though I rejected you, I did so half-heartedly. Perhaps, that’s the reason why you keep thinking that you have a chance.” Kanari sighed.
“But I’m done playing around. Fred Newton. I will never be in a relationship with you, ever. I hope you received this message loud and clear.” For the thirty-eight time, Kanari rejected Fred.
The words that Kanari spouted surely entered into Fred’s mind. Turning as pale as a sheet, the tall man stood rooted to the ground, and his eyes started to mist. His brain moved at the speed of light, hoping to find a reason for Kanari’s sudden change of heart.
‘Is my love over? Just like this? No! That can’t be! I have done everything right! I have worked hard, I have shown my loyalty! So something must have happened to Kanari! Why would she change? Why would she change?! WHY WOULD SHE CHANGE?!’
All of a sudden, it clicked.
The image of a particular black-haired youth, who had spent a tremendous amount of time with Kanari, came to the forefront of Fred’s mind.
“It’s that bastard, Shin right?”
“You… Never acted this way before! It must be that bastard that keeps clinging onto you! You can’t trust him Kanari! People like him are only there to use your influence! He doesn’t care about you! You must wake up, Kanari!” Lost in his fantasies, Fred attempted to grab Kanari by the shoulders but was immediately stopped as the female butler appeared in between them, stunning everyone watching the ceremony.
“I’ve decided… Fred, you are a threat to my safety. The next time you come within ten metres of me, I will have your head roll.” Kanari immediately got off the podium and brisk-walked to safety. In truth, after hearing all of his derogatory words against Shin, Kanari wanted to execute him right there and then. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the authority to kill whoever she pleased.
“Principal Erudito, I advise that you keep him under surveillance. If he dares to harm even a single strand of hair on Shin, I’ll take it up to you.” Kanari didn’t leave before giving the highest authority in the academy a stern warning. There wasn’t a need to explain anything since the Principal had been eavesdropping the entire time. Staring deeply into the ruby coloured eyes of Kanari’s, the bronze-faced scholar sighed and replied as such:
“Good.” Almost instantly, Kanari disappeared from the view of the audience as she hurried backstage. After the ceremony, she was bringing all of Shin’s friends to visit the recuperating youth. Thus she didn’t want to be late.
Principal Erudito turned his head to glance at the curled up Fred, who was mumbling sweet nothings to himself. Looking up at the audience, he could see heaps of reporters running off their respective communication devices, hoping to spread Fred’s misfortune to the entire world as quickly as possible. Finally, he thought of the black-haired youth who was still in possession of his master. All these factors combined forced a helpless sigh to flow out his mouth.
“What a mess…”