Chapter 4 – Shelter Of Heroes
After wishing good luck to the participants, Archbishop Silternja sat in his middle seat, at the left end seat sat Cardinal Northstar, His Young Eminence sat in the other middle seat and Sister Iaura at the right end seat.
Priest announcer Armin exited the arena, leaving only the one thousand and three participants inside. “Thank you, Archbishop Silternja”, he said with no hint of intention to address the two youngsters sitting together with the holy Archbishop and Cardinal, as if he was asked to from the start to be reserved about them.
The crowd was a bit confused. An unknown youth sat not only at the highest level of the most central church’s seating stage, he actually sat in a middle seat, pushing the holy Cardinal himself to the edge!
A bright light shone from the mantle covering the arena. Armin held a small crest with the word “Light” on it, which resonated with the mantle and apparently could control it.
“Everyone, as I explained earlier, the official tryouts commence with a test of understanding the attribute. As those excelled expert among you know, in our planet, Ercas Mir, there is a number of danger zones where the attribute energy of the world is very unbridled and oppressive, even experts of the third realm could easily encounter perilous situations there”. He described and pointed at the white mantle. “This covering you see around the arena is called ‘Shelter Of Heroes’ and is a replica of a minor danger zone, our Luminous Church uses to enrich the worldly attribute understanding of young prospects. It has seven levels of tempering, in which the first five are within the understanding’s range of a Peak Core Master, the sixth level require the understanding of a Peak first level Martial Mortal and the seventh level require the understanding of a Peak second level Martial Mortal. To pass the attribute test, our brave participants will have to withstand the challenge of the Shelter Of Hero by proving their level of understanding. The trial will start in the first level of the shelter and every hour will rise to another level. If a participant feels that he or she cannot bear anymore the pressure, they can leave the arena and forfeit their place in the Elite Tryouts. However, be very thoughtful of your decision, only the two hundred participants who will last longest will proceed to the next day’s trial!”
“What? Eliminating a fifty of the participant in the first day?”
“Too harsh, too harsh!”
“The tryouts will only submit the top hundred participants to the church, top ten to the Holy Palace, there are enough days to meticulously evaluate each participant, why the rush?”
Armin gave a breath of time to the crowd and contenders to ready themselves, especially those of esteemed background who had better idea than most about the church and Holy Palace. “Begin!” He shouted, the crest in his hand glowed and from the dome shaped Shelter Of Heroes, human size monstrous looking constructs of light were conjured.
The thousand and three constructs pounced separately at each contender, rousing the crowd cries of fear and amazement.
Zax stared at the construct targeting him. It had a humanoid figure and was actually smaller than him by two heads. It had bulging big, round, pupils less eyes and no other facial features, a horn at the back of its head, four arms with razor sharp claws, two legs with long talons and two tails.
“Humph!” Zax snorted, raised his hand and slapped the construct, which spiraled in the air and exploded. His understanding of the worldly attribute energy is superior to Gid Chu’s, just a bit of it is needed to ruin the seventh level of the Shelter Of Heroes. ‘Still, I can’t draw too much attention to myself. Who knows if they will suspect that something amiss because of me…’ He glanced from the corner of his eyes at Sister Beatriz, Sister Iaura and His Young Eminence. ‘The first four levels, I suppose, meant to separate the wheat from the chaff. If I’ll solve them all with brute strength I will still be safe and make a reasonable impression’.
Zax was right. The first level of the Shelter Of Heroes had been solved quite quickly by ninety percent of the contenders. The remaining ten percent put a little effort before solving it and the crowd watching their mesmerizing, flashy techniques sure enjoyed the spectacles.
By the end of the first hours only seven contenders left the arena. They all could continue to the second level, but did not want to embarrass themselves by leaving shortly after it begin.
“You did good withstanding the first level, as expected, brave participants!” Armin declared. “Now, as promised, let’s push it to the second level!” The crest glowed again and the Shelter Of Heroes conjured those same familiar light constructs.
‘A bit bigger and with a mouth…’ Zax clenched his fist. The poor thing coming at him did not seem to have an ounce of intelligence, so there was no need to put much thought in the manner of getting rid of it.
It exploded to countless sparkling fragments that dissipated and were absorbed by the shelter.
‘The mist energy of a typical third level Core Master will barely suffice to destroy it…’ Zax assessed by the feeling in his hand. ‘Maybe the fourth level will already require utilization of dark attribute energy, otherwise I might really stand out…’
Cheers and conversation slowly developed in the crowd. Non cultivators were continuously shouting for more gripping displays while the experts sitting in their midst and those from the great families and aristocrats’ circle in the reserved seating were eyeing specific figures that aroused their interest during the preliminaries.
Only the high levels of the church’s seating stage, where the second level Martial Masters and above were situated, maintained a placid view on the arena.
The second hour nearly passed. Zax stood with arms crossed and eyes closed, presenting a disinterested front to work with his facade. He could feel eyes browsing him. The identities of him, Sioul and Els were known to the other contenders and the crowd as the three “underdogs” of the tryouts, but up until now there was a deeper concentration on the other two who dared to accept a blow from Sister Mafita, a third level Core Master!
Before entering the third hour thirty seven contenders left the arena, all with the ability to stay, but not long enough to save face when forfeiting first.
Time continue to elapse.
At the third hours the monstrous light construct were a size bigger than Zax’s true appearance, they were muscular, had an additional pair of arms, a second horn, a third tail and slightly ugly definition to their face.
Zax punched the living out of the third construct. Like him, who could beat it with one strike, were about five hundred of the nine hundred and fifty nine contenders. When the hour passed a hundred and two contenders left the arena, most beaten in no way to sustain a second of the fourth hour.
“I’m confused, You Young Eminence”, Sister Iaura said. “How is that a way to test or temper one’s understanding of the worldly attribute?”
His Young Eminence laughed upon hearing her innocent inquiry. “You haven’t figured it out because you never experienced the Shelter Of Heroes. Other than being a test and means to temper the understanding it is also a challenge of various degrees. The first four level of the shelter can be counted as easy, hence having more than one method to go about them. See that participant over there, the humanoid beast with the spotted red fur and wings?”
“And can you see the blue haired woman several meters of him?”
“Yes, Your Young Eminence”.
“Both of them are examples of the two methods of solving the first four levels. When the fourth level will release the light construct watch these two and you will get the answer to your question”.
Nodding obediently, Sister Iaura resumed her attention on the arena, her eyes deeply concentrated on the red furred, winged humanoid beast and the blue haired woman.
When the Shelter Of Heroes conjured the fourth wave of light construct, the mood in the arena became solemn.
The constructs descended at the eight hundred and fifty seven contenders in new form, a lower body of a snake and a humanoid upper body. They retained the three sets of arms, but now held chains of light in each hand. Their round, bulging eyes were clearer with a trace of sentience. Their horns were larger, their faces long, their mouths spewing inscrutable words in husky voices.
In the arena at least seven hundred contenders released their auras. Some revealed their weapons, others, beasts, transformed.
‘It’s as strong as a Peak Core Master. To take it out in one hit will be an exaggeration, if I want just a measure of attention’.
Dragging this time’s confrontation for almost ten seconds, Zax eventually destroyed the light construct with a few tens punches and even frowned for a fraction of a second in the process, since the construct had no vital spot he could exploit. From top to bottom it was fully conjured from light attribute energy.
“I get it, Your Young Eminence. The blue haired woman overpowered the construct with mist energy alone, while the red furred humanoid beast uses his understanding of the fiery attribute worldly energy to match the profound making of the construct”.
“Even if a puzzle is easy, it is still a good mind exercise”. His Young Eminence remarked in affirmation.
“You finished quickly”. Ten minutes into the fourth hour a tanned youth approached Zax.
“You, too”. Zax told Bin Bin. ‘And he hadn’t even exposed his understanding of the worldly attribute… what mist cultivation technique does he practice to generate such strength?’ Zax was really amazed, not even his sister Zetsa’s Radical Fiery Icy Provocation Qi Refining Technique could compare to Bin Bin’s cultivation technique, and he had not reached yet to the Peak of the Core Master realm!
“Say, what’s your name? Although your killing techniques are useless against the constructs, your brute strength deal with them even better”. Bin Bin, like many others, found Zax as one of the intriguing contenders due to how quickly they destroyed the fourth construct.
Benni, Shila, Nirik Je and Hason also beat their construct sooner than most, within the first twenty minutes. Neyrar was even faster. He defeated the construct in a little over four minutes.
“Karim”. Zax replied.
“Oh… what a strange name. To me you look more like ‘Gorth’ or ‘Morlord’, something with ‘O’ sound. By the way, mine is ‘Bin Bin’”.
‘This guy really doesn’t know how to restrain himself…’ Zax inwardly sighed. “Leave me alone”. He said and closed his eyes as if in meditation. He was not in the tryout to make friends or reacquaint himself.
“Hey”, Bin Bin scowled. “That’s rude. I was just sharing my opinion. If you didn’t like it you can say. Hey, Karim, are you listening?” He pestered Zax until Benni and Nirik Je dragged him to their group in fear of him crating a scene.
The fourth hour reached its conclusion after six hundred and eighty contenders were forced to use their attribute with either their physique or mist. Four hundred and fifty departed from the arena in the end.
“Everyone, a recess of thirty minutes will take place before the fifth hour will start. Participants are permitted to leave the arena to their designated area”. Armin announced.
Gradually the crowd of almost hundred thousand people got up and dispersed to restroom breaks, stretching their legs and buying food and drinks.
‘Leaving to the designated area?’ Zax skimmed the arena, gouging the condition of more than two thirds of the contenders still in the trial. Of the four hundred and seven, about three hundred were in need of rest by meditation that could perfectly be accomplished and the arena. Why should the waste a second by changing location?
Keeping to himself, he pretended to rest. ‘The fifth hour will probably be the last’.