Himmel Empire. Imperius Academy.
Two weeks had passed since the end of the finals, and Imperius Academy was preparing to close for the year-end break. Although it was harder this year, the faculty had finally tabulated the final scores for all the students and had ranked them accordingly. The first hundred rankers of each year would be displayed on the public noticeboard, and the one who topped the ranks would be crowned the valedictorian.
As anticipated, for the freshmen year, Rank 1 firmly went to Kanari. However, the scores between the first and second place weren’t as far as a gap as everyone thought. Kanari did the second best when it came to academic subjects, while her practical scores were a cut above the rest. Furthermore, with her being crowned as the freshmen champion, people thought that she would tower over her competition.
However, the gap between the valedictorian and salutatorian was only by twenty points. Shin’s excellent results in the theoretical side boosted his overall score massively, and his top tier performances in the practical fields made him a real contender for the valedictorian spot. If Shin had won the year-end finals, there was no doubt that he would tower over Kanari’s score.
Third place came as a surprise to everyone. Elrin Zedcris, whose academic scores was only capable of just scrapping it to the top twenty, had blown away her competition in the auxiliary department. Her practical scores were almost perfect, and all the contests that she had entered had seen her being crowned the champion. If she had performed a little better academically, even Shin’s salutatorian seat would have been in serious jeopardy.
The fourth place came as no surprise. Suji Lasgeor, who went deep into the semifinals, firmly cemented his position at the top, while an auxiliary course boy by the name of Hikim Khan sealed the top five up.
Shizen, even though his practical marks were off the charts, his academic performance was rather lacklustre. However, he still managed to make it into the top twenty alongside Ella, Emma and Isadore. Danroy made it to eighth place, and Natasha Aldana was ranked eleventh. Looking at the final rankings, the twins and Isadore would most definitely make it into the Star Class next year, bringing the entire clique together.
Since the rankings were announced, it was time for the winners to reap their rewards. While the top rankers were given their own respective rewards by the faculty, Principal Erudito called for Elrin, Shin and Kanari so that he could bestow their rewards personally.
“Elrin, congratulations on achieving third place! Your father must be really proud!” Inside of the brightly lit Principal’s Office, a bronze-faced man was beaming with a smile that reached both ends of his ears.
After Lady Seph saved Shin in front of the entire world, the academy had been sent into disarray. Hundreds of letters piled in from High Society, demanding to gain new information about Shin. It was only through the joint forces of the Highgarden Duchy, Zedcris Conglomerate and the Emperor himself, did the letters cease.
“Hehe, maybe~.” Elrin chuckled as she stepped forward.
“As the third place, you are granted a personal cultivation chamber for three months, a few hundred medicinal pills, unlimited access to the forbidden section of the library for three months and the privilege to ask for private tutoring sessions. How would you like to proceed?”
“I relinquish the medicinal pills and my privilege for an extended stay in the cultivation chambers!” Elrin instantly replied. As the heiress of a merchant, it was in her blood to bargain the best deal for herself. Since she had virtually unlimited resources and guidance in her personal life, the only thing that interested her was the access to her own cultivation chambers.
“I knew you would say that...” Principal Erudito laughed. “I’ll give you access to it for a year. Are there any requirements?”
“A spacious chamber that is dense with light elements, please! If possible, could you add a pure gemstone that contains light spiritual essence? My Spirit could really use that.”
Elrin’s Spirit, the Rosary of Eternity, was a treasure-type auxiliary Spirit that uses light elements. Created out of four thousand and ninety-six priceless rounded beads, Elrin’s Rosary of Eternity was one of the rarest Spirits in the world. With the innate ability to boost or bind anyone that the white-haired girl prayed over, the Rosary of Eternity was perhaps the strongest auxiliary Spirit in the academy.
“Sure, but I’m not going to spend too much money on it… After all, you will remodel the place either way.”
“Oops… Busted~.” Elrin stuck her tongue out like the mischievous kitten that she was. With the amount of money she had, she could turn a pauper’s house to a celestial palace overnight.
“You little brat… Anyway, I’ll give it to you for a year. Next… Shin!” Principal Erudito turned his attention away from the white-haired girl and glanced at the youthful boy standing next to her. His body was void of any scratches, and it was hard to believe that he had sustained a life-threatening wound just two weeks prior.
“Are you feeling better?”
“Hmmm? Ah, yes! Master had ensured that I made a full recovery!”
“That’s good… Although I admire your drive to win, the next time you fight, you shouldn’t put your body through that much trauma. You may have gotten away with it once, but you won’t be lucky every time.” Principal Erudito gave Shin a firm warning. If the youth continued on his reckless fighting style, eventually, it would get him killed.
“I will heed your advice...” Shin bitterly smiled and replied the bronze-faced scholar.
“That’s good…” Principal Erudito nodded his head and continued on with his next line of business. “As the salutatorian, you get a personal cultivation chamber for six months, access to the forbidden section of the library for four months, a few hundred medicinal pills, the right to ask any faculty member to teach you and finally, a precious treasure resource from our vault. Are you going to accept all of them?”
There was no need for doubt. Shin’s sole goal throughout his freshmen year was to gain the best resources that Imperius Academy has to offer. All of the rewards granted to the salutatorian were in line with everything that he sought for thus, there was no need to turn down any of them.
“Good, for your personal cultivation chambers, I’ll just give you the same one that you used when you were attempting to condense your Spirit Core. Later on, I’ll bring you and Kanari to the vault. There, you can take your time to choose whichever item you want.”
“Thank you, Principal!” Shin couldn’t help but grin. He had trained tirelessly over the past year, and now, it was finally time for him to reap the rewards.
“Lastly, Kanari...” Turning to the last person in the lineup, Principal Erudito raised his hands and smiled. Of all the students in this cohort, Kanari was undoubtedly the strongest. Whenever Principal Erudito looks at the ethereal beauty, he doesn’t see a student that needs to be nurtured, but a powerhouse that had the potential to become the next Spirit Immortal.
“For one year, you will be given access to your own cultivation chambers, unlimited access to whichever forbidden zone you wish to enter, hundreds of medicinal pills, the right to invite a Spirit Venerate to mentor you, three precious treasure resources from the vault, and finally… The privilege to alter one part of the academy as you please… Do you accept all of your rewards?”
“With pleasure...” Kanari closed her eyes and bowed down in gratitude.
“Good! We can discuss the details of your alteration later! For now, let me bring you two to the vault!”
“Principal? What about me?” Feeling left out, Elrin did her best puppy eyes in hopes of moving the old man. It wasn’t well-known, but the Imperius Academy vault housed tonnes of precious treasures that weren’t available in the marketplace. Not even Elrin, with the influence of her father, could get hands on some of the items hidden deep inside the academy’s vault.
“What about you? If you become either one of the top two next year, perhaps I would take you there myself.”
“Hmph! Meanie!” Immediately pouting her lips, Elrin changed expressions faster than a professional actor, stunning the scholar. Shin and Kanari, who had gotten used to their friend’s antics, just sighed and placed their palms on their foreheads.
“Haha, don’t be that sad! Once you leave the room, Hirda will personally guide you to Tsucai Mountain and allow you to choose any of the free chambers available. How about that?”
“You said it! I’m going straight for the biggest one!”
“Haha, go ahead!” Bellowing out in laughter, Principal Erudito tapped on Shin and Kanari’s shoulders and gestured for them to follow.
Walking shoulder to shoulder, Shin turned his attention to the black-haired beauty and whispered: “Do you know anything about what we can find in the vault?”
“Hmmm? You’ve been here for a year, and you don’t know about the precious resources that Imperius Academy holds?” Kanari shot Shin an incredulous look. Given his history of investigating everything, it seemed weird that the boy didn’t know of any resources in the vault.
“I’ve asked Isadore, but he didn’t tell me anything!”
“Wow… I’ll reprimand him later.” Kanari scoffed as she thought of the silver-haired boy that always hung out with them.
“Anyway, the Imperius Academy vault houses some of the world’s most precious materials. From hereditary opuscules from Spirit Venerates to divine consumables that enhance a cultivator’s foundation. Some of the most valuable items in the vault include a ruby ground down from a phoenix feather and a mythic-grade herb that increases a cultivator’s perception level for twenty-four hours.” Kanari patiently explained.
“Of course, even though they are rare, they aren’t as useful to those above the Spirit Spectre realm. Otherwise, even the Imperial Family would wreak havoc in the academy just to get to the vault.”
“I see...” Shin started to fantasise about the numerous treasures that he was about to encounter. “I wonder what treasures are best for me?”
“Well, if nothing catches your eye, you could always join the Highgarden Duchy! I promise you, I will ensure that you get all the resources that you could possibly imagine!”
“Give me a break, Kanari...” Shin let out a dry chuckle as the pair were led further underground.
The Imperius Academy vault wasn’t safeguarded by any guards or Spirit Beasts, and the path towards it was quite straightforward. However, even though there seemed like there was a lack of security if anyone other than Principal Erudito walked through the pathway, thousands, if not millions of traps would be set off, instantly decimating any trespasser.
Staying as close to Principal Erudito as possible, Shin and Kanari kept their backs straightened and heightened their senses to observe the nearby walls. After all, neither of them wished to get mauled by the traps that plagued the area.
It wasn’t long until a pure white door, that stretched from the base of the corridor to the high ceilings above, came into view. The gate resembled a portal to the heavens above, and the golden carvings on it brought out a sense of majesty that forced the two Spirit Core cultivators to go weak in their knees.
“Don’t be afraid, as long as you don’t forcibly attack it, the gate won’t harm you.” Principal Erudito assured the duo that it was absolutely safe. Naturally, that didn’t help in curbing their fear at all. “Hold still, let me open it.”
The bronze-faced man took out a golden key and injected a tremendous amount of mana into the spiritual tool. Carefully, Principal Erudito inserted the key into the sole opening the door had. All of a sudden, metallic echoes of mechanisms clicking reverberated through the hallway, as the ground started to quake. Before the two students had the chance to back away, Principal Erudito cautioned them authoritatively.
“Don’t retreat! The vault might think that you’re a threat and incinerate you!”
Instantly staying rooted to the ground, Shin and Kanari unconsciously gulped down a mouthful of saliva before watching the gigantic door creak open. White mist escaped from the interior of the vault as a brush of cold air gushed on their faces. Removing the golden key from its keyhole, Principal Erudito beamed and allowed the doors to swing inwards, revealing the ostentatious items within.
“Wow...” Shin gaped in awe. Even Kanari, who had ample experiences dealing with precious materials, had been struck speechless at the sheer quantity of luxuries that was sealed behind those doors.
Towers upon towers of encased artefacts, brightly shining hereditary opuscules, precious herbs sealed in a vacuum container to prevent decay. To call it an overkill was an understatement. No academic institution in the entire Empire could even hope to match ten per cent of the opulence shown in the Imperius Academy’s vault.
“Take your time to browse through the area! There are basic introductions to most of the items here, but feel free to ask me anything!”
Once the two had stepped foot into the vault, Principal Erudito tapped the huge doors and allowed them to close. Some of the precious resources in the room were susceptible to contamination. Hence it was essential to ensure that the vault stayed as clean as possible.
“Are we allowed to summon out our Spirits here?” Shin questioned.
“Summon your Spirits? Hmmm, that’s fine, but don’t use any spiritual abilities! Also, don’t allow your Spirits to go within a metre of any item!” As much as he didn’t like the notion of using Spirits to sniff around the precious vault, Principal Erudito acquiesced to the youth’s request.
Shin congregated his mana into his right hand and summoned out the adorable cerulean Koi. The instant The Sovereign Koi made its entrance, its eyes widened with extreme joy, and it twirled around like a dog chasing its tail. Being surrounded by that much elemental energy and such dense mana made the Spirit giddy, and it couldn’t wait to start exploring.
Likewise, Kanari smiled and brought out her Spirit, the Kumiho. Just like The Sovereign Koi, the Kumiho was as small as a rat, but it still retained all of its most prominent features. Its nine tails moved erratically as it tilted its head in wonder at the fish in Shin’s hands. Dropping its lower jaw, a string of saliva dripped out from the Kumiho’s mouth and its eyes flashed with a predatory light.
Sensing danger, The Sovereign Koi immediately hid behind Shin to prevent the Kumiho from finding it, forcing the fox to throw a hissy fit. Kanari laughed and stroked on her Spirits adorable head, before leaving in the opposite direction.
“Hahaha, come out! She’s already gone!” Shin couldn’t believe how The Sovereign Koi behaved after meeting the Kumiho for the first time. “Come! Help me find something good!”
The whole reason why Shin asked if he could summon out his Spirit was due to the high amounts of perception The Sovereign Koi possessed. If it found something it favoured, it was definitely an item that would benefit Shin.
Five minutes passed… There was no reaction.
Fifteen minutes passed… Shin decided to change his approach and allowed The Sovereign Koi to roam a little more freely. Still no reaction.
An hour had gone by… Kanari had chosen two of the three items that she was entitled to, but Shin has yet to even single out one item.
Soon, the black-haired youth started to get restless. Even though Principal Erudito didn’t set a time limit, there was still an invisible pressure hanging at the top of his head. However, no matter how hard he looked and how close he let The Sovereign Koi roam to the luxurious items in the vault, there was still no reaction.
“Whatever, if you can’t find anything within the next five minutes, I’ll just get that herb which strengthens my sensitivity to water elements.” Shin chided the fish that was swimming about in the air. As if threatened by its master’s words, The Sovereign Koi let out a tiny amount of mana into the atmosphere, stunning Shin and Principal Erudito in the process.
“Hey, Shin! I told you no spiritual abilities!” The bronze-faced man hollered out.
“I’m sorry! I just lost control for a bi-...” However, just as Shin was about to apologise for his actions, a primal attraction enveloped his entire being as he suddenly felt a connection to something within the vault.
“W-What?” Shin’s heart palpitated, and cold sweat flowed out from his forehead. Without knowing, his feet propelled him forward, as the attraction grew ever stronger.
“Shin? Hey, Shin!” Confused as to why the youth was behaving so strangely, Principal Erudito got off his feet and followed Shin closely.
It only took a minute for the youth to find the object that caused his soul to tremble. In his hands, The Sovereign Koi let out a triumphant look as it wiggled about in pure excitement. Shin, on the other hand, was still trying to hold back his overflowing emotions as he stared into the glass case that secured the item that lay within.
A charred thorn, akin to that of a mammoth’s tusk, remained dormant, void of any spiritual fluctuations or mana signatures. Compared to the grandeur of the other artefacts in the room, the thorn was rather lacklustre in stature, but deep down, Shin knew that this unassuming thorn was perhaps the most valuable object in the entire vault.
“What… What is that?”