On a land that had been long forgotten it is called Earth, stood an empire of antiquity. The Saint Empire.
It is currently their golden era, where geniuses walk freely among the crowded streets of the numerous cities. Powerful practitioners of various secret arts belonging to different clans can be seen everywhere in this age.
As talented men become numerous, the advancement of Saint Empire has been pushed towards unprecedented levels of civilisation.
In such an age, where many gifted individuals struggle for the few limited resources, the common people, like Kairos, who have neither funds nor backers are slowly forced into a corner.
The unfortunate ones like him are looked down heavily by their peers, and they do not have the basic privilege to access the many of the training resources provided by the empire. Thus, the gap between the strong and the weak continues to grow larger.
In the perpetual battle to secure more resources, young children with cultivation talent are quickly snatched up and trained to become the next generation of warriors who could obtain even more for the organisation or family that trained them.
Those without talent, however, are only treated like trash, for they committed the one greatest sin; Being below average. In a dog-eat-dog world, there is very little sympathy spared for those who could not protect themselves.
But, the weak tends to gather, and Kairos eventually found a group of close friends which he calls them his brothers. In Saint Empire, it is part of their belief that all man descended from the same family, and it has become their culture to use the words ‘Brother’ and ‘Sister’ for people they respect. But for their group, they truly felt a kinship no weaker than those formed by blood.
Kairos, Alan Walker, Edward Alfonso, Jim Carry and Tommy Styrkur, were fast friends that bond for life.
Since then, the five of them have done everything together, from fishing in the rivers to getting caught together peeking at the girls' bath. As the saying goes, people of the same kind flocks together, therefore just as Kairos’ moral character is rather excellent, so are his friends, save the mischievousness natural for their age. But sadly, just as Kairos is extremely poor, the same could be said of his brothers.
At the age of 12, all children of the empire are required to leave their family and take compulsory education at the nearest boarding school. Living close to Saint Empire’s capital city, they joined the school there. Saint Cadets Academy.
At that place, they are groomed to become great warriors, generals or even assigned to political roles depending on their talents and how favourable their grades are. However, those that fail to prove themselves are cruelly expelled from the school to save the empire from wasting their resources on such individuals notorious for being 'sinkholes’.
The Empire that faces a permanent shortage of craftsmen will then assign those that had been expelled to the trade federate. While this job may sound fancy or even important, but the truth is far from pretty.
Except for the rare case where the individual has an exceptional talent with crafting, they will start from the bottom. As a junior craftsman, their jobs only revolves around the minimal tasks, like cleaning the beasts’ stables or washing the forge. And their salary is likewise the lowest.
With backbreaking work like this, it is easy to be injured, and with such an unflattering amount of pay, many of those people found out that they are barely able to feed themselves much less their families. It is no wonder that the number of squatters in every city increases yearly.
Unfortunately for Kairos and his group of brothers, having just entered the school nearly 6 months ago, they already managed to fail every single one of their exams and are on the brink of expulsion.
As required at Saint Cadets Academy, they formed a group of 5 to be examined, both individually and how effective is their teamwork. But with neither money nor fame, the teachers were not welcoming to them, and they were often sent away.
Though they are young, they already knew in their hearts that this is the painful reality of their society, where status and talent means everything. Unfortunately, this prejudice also runs deep even within the academy, and only the highborn were properly taught their roles on the battlefield.
The teachers justified their decision, claiming they are giving more time and attention to the students who proved themselves, and the school closed an eye to things.
With the threat of war lingering at their borders, Saint Empire could not show weakness to their neighbours. At the West, the Silent Lambs Empire are gathering their strength. On their North, the Savage Lands has changed a leader, a Great War Chief said to be unsurpassed by his predecessors.
An unseen pressure pressed down upon the shoulders of every practitioner in the empire, and though it is cruel, many chose to only invest time and money on the promising young instead of giving everyone an equal chance.
Unfortunately, this focus on nurturing their crème de la crème also created an elitist mindset prevalent within the Empire.
It is no surprise that the academy’s training resources were distributed according to a student’s rank. By the time the leftovers come to Kairos’ group, their current position at the very bottom of the rankings, they receive only unusable stale pills and cracked pieces of spirit stones that had long lost their effects.
Among the five of them, their only training material is a hand-me-down training manual that is unfortunately incomplete. Against the other student groups that are trying to step on them to climb upwards, the boys resorted to improvising on whatever they have on hand.
In their team, each person handles a different role on the battlefield. Kairos is their team command, Alan their recon, Edward the combat engineer, Jim the saboteur and Tommy their assault and rear-guard.
Unfortunately, besides an introduction to their role, they barely know the technicalities required of them, and besides that, they are equally poor in their cultivation as J rankers.
Traditionally, Martial arts practitioners are ranked from Triple S, down to Rank F. However as more and more ‘bottom feeders’ aggressively seek to improve their situation, Command has adopted a free new system which recognised more rankings that are below F ranks, to give them a guideline in developing themselves.
The lowest rankings have since been increased and new ranks, G, H, I and J, are added. However, they are still considered the unofficial rankings by most, an idea backed by the fact that power differences between G to J are minuscule.
Yet, somehow, Kairos' team with their under-nourished bodies, still found a way to lose to J rankers. At the start, even an average six years old is a difficult foe to them. A fact, unthinkable, for practitioners.
Now after months of practice, they finally reach new heights in their strength. They are now capable of fending off even an average eight-years-old practitioner with a bit of teamwork. This is, of course, still far from the standard strength a cultivator their age should have.
Technically, their levels should be considered ‘out of ranking’, but because there is no lower rank than that, each of them wears the J rank badge.
Even those that try hard to fail will find them rather impressive, even the other J rankers look down upon them. With this degree of combat ability, even the next weakest team did not consider them rivals and had been ignoring them. There is an overwhelming and despairing amount of difference between them and everyone else.
But at this point in time, it is far too late for them to change their fate of being expelled from the school. Save one final opportunity, the mock battleground examination.
The way the Academy runs is separated into two halves of each year. The first half of the year will be spent on studies and practice ending with the final examination.
Those that does well academically or by outperforming the others on the battlegrounds will be able to enter the following year. The second half of the year is then spent on self-study and cultivation. All students are encouraged to use the academy’s training facilities, but most choose to return home.
Left with only one chance, the team’s original leader, Alan Walker, pushed Kairos to take his seat as a last resort and they effectively switched roles between team command and recon.
Even though they do not know if this switch will be of any help, there is no doubt in their seriousness to succeed.
Their motivation lies, not only in entering the 2nd year but the work opportunity one is given upon finishing the academy. Most graduate students take up positions in the government, but no matter where they venture, they are considered elites for completing the academy and are highly sought after in the market.
In addition to this, the school awards students that do well richly, with both money and status. For the poorer families, this is definitely a life-changing opportunity and something they consider a great honour to their ancestors. Besides a chance to improve their family’s situation, even a noble rank to leave their old ways behind is possible, if their children are deemed to be great talents. However, such incidents are definitely rare.
Kairos sat alone in his unfurnished dorm room, where grey walls and stone floor are all that accompanied him. Before him is a pile of sand, spread across the surface, and on it, a map of their examination venue is drawn.
The place is a large rectangle, with the gate to the fenced area in the south. A hill lies to each side on the east and the west, while the north is rumoured to be the breeding ground of monsters.
He had isolated himself for two weeks, working on possible strategies they could carry out in the training grounds. They are not in a situation where they could care about the future when getting to the next year itself, is an issue.
“It seems that we need to achieve something notable to change our results. Hmmm, is there a way?” Kairos thought with hopelessness.
His role in the team, before becoming the captain, is their recon, and making use of the terrain to work things in their favour is his speciality. He carefully indicated the areas where the forests and the river are and started planning battle strategies that could improve their chances.
He formulated different tactics for all kinds of scenarios in battle, but quickly come to the conclusion that no matter how hard they tried, things are looking gloomy.
It is not that there are no proper methods to use the terrains to their advantage, but the five of them are simply too weak. Even if they gang up on a single opponent, they are more likely to be the ones beaten up.
For them to be able to fail so hard, it can also be considered a miracle. The group’s only training material, an old manual, is a fire palm skill book that contributed to their cultivation, or lack therein.
Not only is this book old and torn, but Kairos' dad, Vouno, had also somehow managed to stain the centre with spilt coffee and make it extremely difficult to understand.
Like most internal martial arts, the fire palm skill is meant to utilise a practitioner’s internal energy, Ki, to defeat the opponent. But because the skill manual is nearly unreadable, none of them has mastered the skill.
Instead, practising the technique using their own interpretation caused most of them to pick up wrong habits during combat, disrupt their internal Ki flow, and cause them to become the weakest of the lot in their year.
Their only accomplishments are a bunch of improvised, useless but highly creative techniques that not helpful for their pitiful situation.
However, being a bit of a perfectionist, Kairos had forgone learning the incomplete book and instead focused on making his moves more efficient. This decision proved to be wise, allowing him to fight well even without martial arts as he solely depended on a continual streamlining of his movements and improving the basics.
It wasn’t a surprise that this made him the strongest of the group and therefore volunteered by Alan to take over team command.
Unfortunately, both their martial techniques and cultivation is far weaker than their peers, with the average strength of the 12 years old classes three whole ranks above them at G rank.
Pointlessly skimming through that old and coffee-stained book again, Kairos felt a change is needed.
When he was following the team, he merely obeyed instructions. Trusting others to make a decision for him. But, now in the position where he is responsible for leading his friends, for better or worse, his determination started burning brightly.
"We are not in a situation where we can play it safe. Let’s try to gamble a little, and attempt new things!"
Having made a decision, he put down the fire palm manual and stood up.
Gritting his teeth, Kairos reluctantly set out to find Indie Annie Jones for help.