The Capital of Libertea stood at the intersection of four borders — in the midst of Huo Dictatorship (Fire), Shui Kingdom (Water), Feng Theocracy (Wind) and Di Federation (Earth). Within Libertea, people felt safe about their elemental backgrounds since it was a progressive region, free from prejudice and traditions.
There were several plazas and markets surrounding the main walkway. The busiest one, 'Rose Entrance', was a lively boulevard filled with stalls selling food, vegetables, weapons, magic tomes, and other commercial products.
On the sides, the traders energetically shouted their sale pitches to the customers. The older women haggled with the merchants as they searched for the freshest produce. Drawn by the aromatic scent of the spices, many passersby purchased skewers of barbecued meat and kebabs which oozed with umami.
This rowdy atmosphere would continue beyond midnight, making it one of the most popular spots for adventurers and travelers.
However, it quickly pacified as two Temple Academy students emerged at the entrance. Nearly everyone in the plaza looked at where they stood, their eyes drawn to the duo.
One was a dainty girl. Her sapphire-like eyes were a gentle and deep blue while her lustrous midnight-black hair braided into a cute side-ponytail. Her snow-white skin shone like pearls under the sun. What drew the lot's attention the most was the air of elegance, which enveloped with her each graceful step. Followed behind the maiden's gravitas was her world-class beauty, making anyone glance twice in her direction.
"She's so pretty, do you think she's a model?"
"I bet you she is. You do know that Temple Academy is known for their beautiful girls!"
The other one was a young adult, appearing slightly older than the maiden. His black hair was neatly trimmed and back was straight like adamantium. The Katana he carried besides his waist looked exceptionally ornate, decorated with a pair of intertwined golden serpents on the black sheath. Despite his youthlike features, he carried himself like a confident veteran. His refined body posture and piercing crimson-red eyes seemed to indicate years of battle experiences.
"Look at that sword, I bet that weapon cost a fortune."
"Do you think he earned it or it was a congratulatory gift from his family?"
"I want to say the latter, but the way he looks tells me otherwise..."
With the fusion of the two individualistic aurae, even nearby Platinum-tier adventurers could not help but marvel with curiosity in their eyes. Many passersby began to gossip amongst themselves. After all, it was not every day for commoners to witness such grandiosity.
It seemed obvious that the two were best friends, maybe even couples based on how close and comfortable they were walking.
In their hands were a large-brown duffle bag. They wore distinguishing black school uniform, however, the girl's was trimmed with gilded gold. The locals here instantly knew what that meant. It would be foolish to not recognize the regalia of one of the most prestigious magic institution in the world, especially when it was only a few blocks away.
Based on their outfits alone, it was obvious that the two were talented individuals. For those with magical knowledge, they acknowledged her magic aptitude based on the embellished gold and the four dashing emblems above her left chest, each representing the elements — water, fire, earth, air — she had mastered.
Although there were many Temple Academy students that passed by earlier, none stood out as prominent as them.
Maybe it was because they had witnessed a 'Four-Attribute Magic' user in the flesh. Or it was absolutely fascinating to see a Temple Academy mage carrying a blade. Or it was a certain type of charisma they both exhibited — a compelling charm that could inspire devotion in others.
Whatever it was, the two had attracted most of the attention as they continued walking.
The onlookers watched the pair gradually vanished into the distance and then immediately began chatting about them.
A few had a hunch that the two were destined to be legendary.
♦ ♦ ♦
Onii and Amae ambled inside Temple Academy, glancing around and admiring their new home for the next five years. The entrance was arched in alabaster, one of the most expensive and sturdiest metals in the world. It felt like they entered into a medieval world, suffused with a magnificent and regal feel.
"This school is absolutely beautiful!" Amae exclaimed in awe.
"As expected of a prestigious academy, it's so well-guarded and maintained," Onii commented.
Similar to earlier, the siblings felt the air changed as they strolled down the main pathway. And they noticed the campus guards nearby taking an extra glance, especially at the sheathed weapon resting beside Onii's waistband.
"Wait inside until everyone is gathered." One of the head guards instructed as he took their luggage. "Your belongings will be inside your dormitory, which will be further discussed during class with your homeroom teacher."
As the two continued, there were casual conversations across the vast lawn and courtyard, with wooden benches and circular-shaped tables lined parallel to the main entrance. Most were already occupied with students who arrived earlier.
The siblings could hear few male students shamelessly complimenting how gorgeous Amae was and wondered if she had a boyfriend, but most onlookers immediately discerned the primary feature between them: their outfits.
Prior to enrollment, every student knew about the discrimination and was expected to accept the social segregation as part of the school's tradition. In fact, Temple Academy enforces the differentiation, stating that the university represented themselves similar to a military-grade academy. As a result, the presenting students waiting inside seemed to be associating themselves with only similar rankings.
Seeing how a 'Potential' and 'Regular' were casually talking together, shoulder by shoulder and smiling fondly without a care for the tacit rule immediately sparked talks.
Onii and Amae could care less about the traditions and decided to rest near a fountain to pass time. A sculpted dragon stood prominently in the center of the crossroad, flowing water continuously from its jaws and down into shimmering ripples.
Dragons were the strongest monster one can encounter in this world. They boasted great physical attack and defense power, boundless stamina and wielded numerous spells.
Therefore, Temple Academy's mascot was a Dragon. A reminder that only the best of the elites are accepted. The quota for first-years was around two hundred out of ten-thousands. Then the admitted were split into halves by their respective magic potential and school uniforms.
"Amae," Onii scanned around, then placed his hand on her shoulder. Compared to his unruly vibe, his voice brimmed with confidence, "I love you."
The guys eyeing her earlier gritted their teeth. Some girls in gold-trimmed uniform sitting nearby yelped collectively to themselves, probably loving a romantic couple that they could gossip about throughout the school year. While a few hoped it was a confession, it seemed quite impossible based on how intimate the two were.
Amae's cheek slightly blushed into a tomato-red.
"I love you too..."
Many hearts popped in defeat as the boys let out a sigh. But the last part of her sentence halted them in their track. In fact, it surprised everyone who was listening.
Rays of possibility rekindled but many were still dumbstruck from their interactions. Based on their delicate tone and close proximity, they appeared more like lovers. No, they should be. Yet, here they were, stating that they were siblings.
"You can call me by my name here, Amae."
"Onii..." She nodded then shook her head with a frown, "No, it's not the same. I rather not call you that name."
A few other students joined in, interested in what the commotion was. It was obvious to Amae and Onii that they were watched by dozens of people, but they did not care for the attention since this was quite common to many places they went. They were used to it.
"Alright, little sister." Onii gently patted Amae's head. "You can keep it the same as always."
A glistening look appeared on her face. It was an expression of pure happiness. The corner of her mouth was twitching and she was desperately trying not to let her expression change. But even an idiot can tell that she was absolutely overjoyed.
"Thank you, big brother. I was afraid I won't be able to call you that anymore. Calling you Onii just felt weird. It felt like we aren't close anymore."
Onii nodded and smiled, "You can call me anything you want."
"Understood, big brother!" Amae's rosy-pink lips blossomed into a beaming grin. One could not help but feel affected by the contagious smile. "And about what happened last night, I want to make it up to you."
"What do you mean?"
"You know what happened," Amae's eyes glanced back and forth in a demure manner. "It's embarrassing for me to say it out loud here right now..."
Curiosity filled the atmosphere. The same girls whispered amongst themselves, wondering what happened and then shrieked happily at something that was probably overly exaggerated.
"Oh about that, it's not a big deal. You can treat me to the skewers next to Adventurer's Guild when school's over. It smelled delicious when we walked by."
"Are you sure? Don't you want more than just food?"
"Food is enough when it's from you."
Amae smiled, beaming from the compliment.
"You know you can ask for more than that. I like it when you are selfish in times like this."
"Then how about..." Onii pondered for a bit then grinned devilishly, "Let's go to the inn and have some fun afterward."
A wave of surprise and shock swept the crowd, wondering how Amae planned to respond to her older brother's suggestive advances.
In stark contrast to an utter rejection and creeped-out expression, Amae spun around gracefully and leaned backward, collapsing directly onto her brother. He caught her swiftly by the arms, almost as if he had done this before. Amae tilted her head, resting her face on his chest.
"If that is what you want big brother, then I shall prepare myself for you."
The crowd was beyond wild at this point, many had widened eyes and opened jaws. Imaginations darted across in all different directions.
"Little sister, you should know that some people here do not know that we are joking," Onii glanced around, smirking at those who fell for it.
"Well, it's their fault for taking what we say too seriously," Amae smiled playfully then leaped back to her original position. "But then again, I suppose I may have gone a bit too far... Or did I?"
Just then, several guards yelled repeatedly across the courtyard.
"Potentials, go left. Regulars, go right. It's time for the First Year Orientation!"
The crowd quickly dissipated but a few remained, curious how the two would say their goodbyes.
"See you later, big brother."
"Have fun in class, little sister."
There seemed to be a slight disappointment at how the two departed so casually with a quick hug. But to the siblings, several hours apart was not too bad. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
But the truth was that Onii wanted his sister to interact with other students.
Normally, when Amae's alone, her physical beauty would automatically attract a swarm of people. Since Onii appeared like a stern big brother, sometimes mistaken as her boyfriend, he was a natural repellent when they were together.
Onii let out a deep sigh, thinking how it was quite tiring that Amae was hit on so easily. The protective side in him wanted to be there for her when it happens in class. But part of him felt like he was overthinking and that perhaps he should back off and let her enjoy the school life experience.
As he predicted, his little sister was instantly greeted by a group of girls from earlier as she walked away. Gradually, many of the Potentials flocked around her like eager fans, wanting to introduce themselves.
"Hey hey, is that really your brother?"
"Wow, you're such a great actor, I couldn't tell you were pranking us."
"You two must be close!"
Onii silently smiled to himself at his social butterfly of a sister. He prayed with all his heart that Amae will enjoy her school life, filled with good friends and cherished memories. After all, it has always been her dream to experience a "normal" school life.
For himself, the thought of having that similar experience sounded pleasant but he did not care too much for it. A sister was all he needed. Whatever happens, happens. And as assigned by the Elite Fives, his main priority was to uncover Temple Academy's secrets, with Amae investigating in the Potential side and him on the Regular.
As Onii drifted into a pensive state, little did he know that by the end of the day, his name would be infamously known to all of the students.