‘I can’t move forward!’ Shin was caught in a bind. Each time he pushed onward, a deadly sand tendril would slap violently upon his body, breaking bones and tearing muscles. Shin’s control over water paled in comparison to Lukman’s ability to manipulate sand, and the young boy thought that the only way that he could potentially give the Luminary a setback, was to seal his movements using the Divine Needle Binding.
However, Lukman wasn’t playing around. The entire field was his domain. He could create spears and arrows out sand to pierce through any attack. He could defend himself by producing pillars of sand and dozens of sand dunes. Finally, he could dominate Shin’s movements by sending sand tendrils to force the boy to dance.
Incapable of landing a single hit on Lukman, Shin had become a laughing stock to everyone in the audience. This was the Spirit Core cultivator that the Lantis Republic was willing to wage war for? He was called the Black-Haired Tyrant? There was nothing tyrannical about his current efforts. Even the Kori Federation’s Lee Haeun was much more superior to the black-haired boy.
“Shin…” Kanari brought her hands together in prayer, hoping that Shin would somehow survive his desperate situation. Shizen, Elrin, and the twins were in a similar state. They knew that Shin couldn’t win. What they hoped for, was for the boy to make it out unharmed.
‘God damn it! Just one more push!’ Shin was cornered. He can’t move from above due to the sand mist that Lukman had created overhead. He can’t flank from behind, as the sand tendrils all seemed to have a mind of their own and tracked him wherever he went. Thus, he only had one option. To charge from the front, regardless of the damage that he would sustain from that reckless movement.
Disregarding the sand tendrils that were upon his body, Shin barged forward, taking blow after blow. Horrible black bruises formed instantly while his body disjointed in directions that weren’t possible for a normal human. If not for Shin’s instant recovery, the young boy would have been laying in the infirmary ten times over by now.
‘Closer… I’m closer…’
Lukman stood still as if advertising for strikes to land on his body. The sand tendrils continued to manifest themselves breaking the body of the tenacious Shin with every passing moment. But Shin didn’t care. His eye was on the prize. If he could land a hit on Lukman’s Dumai Meridian, all of his efforts would have been well worth it.
‘A few more steps…’
Now that he didn’t care about the state of his body, Shin could make significant progress, and he soon found himself just a few metres away from Lukman’s stationary figure. Twenty metres became ten. Ten metres became five. Five metres became three. Until finally…
Shin flung a Yellow-Eyed Dragon Needle straight at Lukman. His Divine Needle Binding technique was his only hope now. Locating the Dumai Meridian with pinpoint accuracy, Shin hoped that his final attack would connect, somewhat salvaging this one-sided match. However, instead of hearing the much-anticipated groan, Lukman’s voice rang in his ears.
“What’s wrong with you?”
The Yellow-Eyed Dragon Needle halted in mid-air, caught by the sand particles that flew around the tanned young man. Lukman’s earlier enthusiasm that could rival an excited dog’s day in the park had diminished entirely, leaving his face in a deep frown.
“What’s this bullshit?” Lukman spat out. “You have the greatest ability of all time. Why aren’t you using it?”
“You can create and manipulate water! An element that’s everywhere in this vast world! There’s water in the air, inside the ground, the oceans, the trees, the mountains! You have the best element there is to create and manipulate! Why are you using martial arts instead of using that gift?!”
Lukman wasn’t just disappointed. He was livid. The Sandman had anticipated that Shin’s ability would far surpass his own when it came to creativity. After all, water was everywhere while sand was not. However, instead of showing off that ability, Shin had squandered it and went for a route that made no sense to Lukman.
“How… You! Hah…” A myriad of emotions overwhelmed the tanned man. Was it grief that such a gift was wasted on a useless individual? Or was it a disappointment that no one could become his equal anymore? Perhaps it was a mixture of the two… Nonetheless, Lukman had given up any hope of digging up more of Shin’s strength.
“This whole match was a waste of time…”
‘A waste of time?! You were the one that brought me in here’ Shin cried out. He didn’t want to fight! It was Lukman who forced it upon him. However, instead of getting angry, Shin began to reflect on the words that the Sandman had just said.
‘Water is in the air, ground, oceans, trees and mountains? The best element to create and manipulate?’ Shin thought hard about the nature of his first spiritual ability. He then recalled the first time Junius and Lily heard of his ability. Shocked to the core, Junius said this:
‘You may not see it now Shin, but in the future, you would understand that this first spiritual ability of yours, may as well be your strongest.’
At first, he didn’t think much of it. Shin thought that his first spiritual ability would be one that offered support to the other spiritual abilities that he possessed. However, watching Lukman create deserts, mists that slice hard rock into debris, manipulate dozens of sand tendrils…
‘There must be something more to this spiritual ability…’ Shin brought out the Sovereign Koi, enabling it to swim around in the palm of his hands. Pumping more and more mana into the adorable little cerulean Koi, Shin felt something snap within the depths of his mind. As if something had finally connected.
Remembering all of the abilities that Lukman had generated during their short bout, Shin understood something. Something that no one but Lukman could have taught him. The true nature of his first spiritual ability.
‘In this world… I am the Sovereign!’
Shin’s azure eyes began to glisten bringing forth an aura that was noble in its exterior, yet gentle within. The Sovereign Koi flapped its fins in euphoria and turned its body to face the tanned man that had threatened its master for far too long. It knew. Its master was now capable of beating the annoying brown man.
‘Something has changed?’ Lukman raised his eyebrows. Shin had stopped moving after hearing his words and dropped his head. Initially, the Luminary from the Tuareg Sect took it as a sign of defeat. However, after he raised his hand to summon out the Sovereign Koi, a feeling of uneasiness enveloped Lukman’s entire being.
‘I must be imagining it…’
Snapping his fingers, Lukman created ten more tendrils to strike the immobile Shin. There was no point in continuing this futile match that he could learn nothing.
‘I’m sorry… You’re were just too much of a disappointment, Shin Awter.’
Snapping his fingers one more time, Lukman sent the tendrils crashing onto Shin’s body, hoping to knock the boy unconscious, thus ending the bout. But what happened next blew his mind…
BOOM!!! BOOM!!! BOOM!!!
The sand tendrils all burst from its middle, ending the attack in its infancy. In its place, a spiralling water current flowed out and began to connect with one another, forming an unstoppable whirlpool which rotated around Shin. Snapping his fingers in the same exact manner that Lukman did, Shin rose the vortex above his head and brought down dozens of water tendrils, mirroring the sand tendrils that Lukman had.
‘What the-?!’ The sudden development had not only left Lukman stunned, but the entire audience, including Shin’s own master, Lady Seph, all had hanging jaws.
“You were right…” Shin snickered as he slowly raised his head.
Lukman’s heart rate, which had been slowed due to the disappointment that Shin had offered him, started to become audible to the tanned young man once more.
“I had been blind. I wasted my potential. It really was bullshit.” Shin’s voice was soft, but it was just loud enough for Lukman to hear.
Badum… Badum… Badum…
Each passing note resonated with Lukman’s accelerating heartbeat, as if they were playing a symphony together. Lukman’s ears began to heat up as a fire lit within his reddening face.
“But now, I understand…” Shin’s face slowly moved higher and higher, until his eyes were in full view. Lukman held his breath as he saw the luminous azure gleam, one that was potentially as bright as a full moon at the peak of the winter solstice. “Now… I finally see.”
BADUM… BADUM… BADUM… BADUM…
Lukman’s wish had finally come to pass! The reason he called out Shin while he was just a mere Spirit Core cultivator had finally made sense!
“Let’s restart this fight, shall we?”
“Let’s restart this fight, shall we?” Shin’s friendly invitation echoed itself within the depths of Lukman’s heart. The audience mattered nought. The fight mattered nought. The Kori Federation, Tuareg Sect, his reason for coming to the Summit, matter nought. He was now fighting the best of the best.
“Haha! You look kind of different! But I can’t tell what changed! Care to explain how do you plan on beating me?”
“Why don’t you test it out?” Shin replied with a haughty smile.
“Fine, then!” Lukman unleashed the full wrath of his Spirit. Peaking his mana, the tanned young man created a colossal Sand Pyramid with his manipulation ability. His plan? Crush the boy with that one strike.
“Let’s see how you counter th-…”
At the same time that Lukman created his Sand Pyramid, Shin raised his arms in the exact same movement. Almost instantly, an exact replica of Lukman’s Sand Pyramid manifested itself. However, instead of being made of sand, it was created by Shin’s very own water.
Shin threw the Water Pyramid at Lukman’s Sand Pyramid, forcing both structures to collapse into a pile of mud. The audience went silent. No one had the words to describe what was happening. Or rather, no one wanted to believe what was happening.
“Did he just…”
“… Copy Lukman’s technique?”
It was blatantly obvious to outline what had happened. Shin created a Water Pyramid to counter Lukman’s just milliseconds after observing it. However, no one dared to believe that someone which such a spectacular gift existed.
“So this is the result of his superior comprehension abilities…” Lady Seph placed her hand on her forehead and fell back on her chair. Shin’s best quality wasn’t his work ethic, and neither was it his superior talent. What truly sets him apart, the aspect of himself that propelled him to become the youngest healer in history was his alien-like comprehension capabilities.
“Seraphim… What’s going on?” Prince Koshaku, the one leading the negotiations about the handover of Shin, didn’t understand what was happening.
“Just see for yourself.” Lady Seph chuckled. “Observe the boy that the Lantis Republic was willing to start a war for!”
Shin felt like he could do anything. His eyes were looking at Lukman, but his mind was ‘seeing’ so many things. How Lukman was controlling that many grains of sand. How Lukman was spreading his mana so thinly while manipulating the desert beneath him, the sandy mist above him and the tendrils that attacked Shin. How Lukman was… Behaving like the Prince of Sand.
‘I understand it! I understand everything!!!’ Shin was beyond ecstatic. He saw how Lukman created and manipulated sand with so little effort, and he felt disdain at how he controlled his own water. It was all so inefficient. Lukman’s way was much better! So…
‘Why not copy it?’
Shin created water tendrils in the same manner that Lukman did and slapped the sand out from the ground. At the same time, he altered half of the arena into a pristine little lake, through the manipulation of the air, land and the Sovereign Koi’s own mana. It took so much less spiritual energy that Shin was pissed off that he had followed his own way of doing things for almost six years.
“Hahaha!!! That’s it, Shin Awter! That’s what I wanted from you!” Waving his arms, Lukman created hundreds of sand spears, some of the likes that would rival military-issued weapons crafted by professional blacksmiths.
Alas, that was a mistake.
Reflecting the exact same movements, Shin created an equal amount of water spears, and he did it in such a convincing way that Lukman felt like he was looking in a mirror.
“You copied it again?! HAHAHAHA!!! WHAT ARE YOUR LIMITS?!”
“Don’t know.” Shin shrugged his shoulders. “Care to help me test it out?”
“WITH PLEASURE!!!” Lukman’s blood continued to pump. Never had he encountered such a freak before. How far could he push Shin? How much more could the boy copy? The Prince of Sand wanted an answer.
The spears neutralised themselves and Lukman created dozens of golems made from sand. They were rather clumsy and could collapse at any moment, but they were capable of beating a fully grown adult any time of the week. Shin saw that skill once and copied it yet again. From the surface of the lake, dozens of water golems rose up, and they immediately went charging at the sand golems.
Once the golems had disintegrated into a pile of mud, Lukman created more sand tendrils, this time, there was a delicately crafted weapon at the tip of each of them. Shin, doing what he did best, imitated them again. The tendrils crossed paths and collapsed once more. The pattern continued itself for over one minute. Lukman would create something, Shin would replicate it, and the two will collide.
“Hahaha!!! What about this?! ‘Shapes’!”
Snapping his fingers in quick succession, the Prince of Sand conceived of intricate shapes, some of which took Lukman years of painstakingly trial and error to image and create. There was a thick Pyramid that was stitched together through weaves of sand threads that would increase the durability of the object infinitely. There was also a tower with a pointed tip that could explode into thousands of strands that would infiltrate any defence that it came across. All of these structures had to be imaged, understood and constructed all within Lukman’s mind, and it had taken him years to achieve this level of proficiency.
Shin copied them all.
The tightly knitted Pyramid. The gargantuan tower. All of the structures that the Prince of Sand created, Shin had obtained it all through a single glance.
“You’re absolutely crazy!”
The ‘shapes’ collided with one another, turning the sandy and watery arena, into a mud fill that was suited for swamp alligators.
“This floor is unsuited for battle… ‘Sand Tsunami’!”
Mirroring Lukman’s ability once more, Shin created a wave the size of the tallest building in Imperius Academy. The mist overhead had long become irrelevant when Lukman was forced to concentrate his everything onto Shin, allowing the two elemental freaks of nature to contest against one another without the fear of hitting a ceiling.
Looking down at the mayhem that they had caused, Lukman laughed in absolute joy. Finally… Finally, there was someone other than himself at the top!
“Shin Awter! I now acknowledge you as someone worthy of duelling against me!” Lukman congregated his mana into one point in his hands and instantly brought out a shimmering silver cup. The cup was decorated with five gorgeous rubies, reminiscent to that of a dying sun. All this time, Lukman has yet to summon out his Spirit. Why? He simply didn’t have to. Until now…
“Lukman Ramal! Rank 43! Spirit, the Bayda Grail! Please advise me!!!”
“That’s right. We haven’t introduced ourselves.” Shin bitterly sighed. Taking a glance up into the crowd, Shin met eyes with a particular blonde beauty. Everyone was holding their breaths while spectating the match, but only one person had a serene and proud gaze. It was her disciple that was shining brighter than anything that existed! How could she hold back her smile? She was the one that believed in him and given him everything when nothing remained. It was only right for Shin to do something for her.
“Shin Iofiel. Rank 24. Spirit, the Sovereign Koi. Please advise me.”