Chapter 112:

Top 10 (3)

Mad God

It was almost an hour later when everybody gathered back in the arena. Even Kirch was back up and standing, albeit, with a bruised face that looked like someone was fighting against an angry beehive. And lost. Between him and Sylvett stood the rest of the participants wearing a weird smile, keeping the two apart. The awkward silence was so thick in the air, some even thought about grabbing onto it and twisting some liquid shame out of the atmosphere to use against their future opponents.

“Why the silence?” Ren sighed and everyone looked at her immediately. “I am asking for the reason. Really. Is it because he said no to me?” She looked around not just at the other finalists but up towards the stands, before sighing again. “Sylvette.”

“Yes!” She looked up immediately, nervously fidgeting in her place.

“Don’t be mad at him.” Ren smiled at her.

“I…” She blinked her eyes, averting them, searching for words to say.

“As we Elders can choose disciples, it does not mean you as students must accept a Master just because he or she said so! You are not our slaves. You have your own, free mind and will.” She let them think about her words a little before continuing. “I saw potential in him, yes. I would’ve trained him to the best of my abilities, but that also means he accepts me as a Master and follows my instructions. A lot of you know, I am hard on my disciples, that is how I teach.”

A lot of disciples and the jury themselves nodded at her words while Kirch just watched the ground, playing with his sleeves.

“He refused me because he knew himself well. Better than most of you here know yourselves. You all need to be clear about this too! Don’t accept a Master just because he or she came before you! It is an opportunity, but ask yourselves this first! Is it worth it? Will you be able to live up to your new Master’s expectations? Will you be able to endure it? Or is there going to be only friction between you two? A Master should never force his or her belief on the disciples! It must be a mutual cooperation. It is not a one way street.” She explained with a gentle voice, looking at the hundreds of faces up in the stands then back at Kirch, with a soft smile. “I was surprised, yes. But not angry or disappointed, not for a moment.” Ren chuckled loudly as Kirch finally looked up with an ashamed expression.

“I’m sorry…” He murmured but Ren just shook her head.

“Don’t be. Nobody here is going to treat any of you differently just because you refused to accept someone as your master. I respect you more because of it, to be honest.” Ren stood up as she walked before the finalists, looking over them, one by one. “Let’s talk about the three spells we saw!”

They, by reflex, nodded at her words while Ren looked at Kirch, walking before him, patting his shoulder.

“You already perfected it. You should start to work on something new.” She said with an encouraging, friendly voice.

“I… do have something in mind.” Kirch murmured with a lowered head.

“I am looking forward to it! Kirch’s spell is the hardest in this tier.” Ren continued, raising her voice, speaking to everyone present. “If my disciple Lulu would want to master it to the degree Kirch can perform it, she would need at least 5 years, with my constant supervision.”

Her words clearly shocked the rest of the disciples, except Sylvett who already knew about it long ago but still… she was upset at him, especially after Ren’s words. Refusing the opportunity to become a core disciple? Under her? She still couldn’t wrap her head around it. The only reason she could find Kirch previously, even after going invisible, was simple. They grew up together, she knew every habit of his, what sound his feet made when moving, not to mention his scent. No wonder Kirch never could hide from her.

“It is a purely defensive spell, best for infiltration or assassination. Those who have a light affinity can check it out, it has low energy drain and can be sustained for a long period of time. Hours on end! Plus, in the dark it works even better and for longer. The trade off is, as I said, the difficulty of it. Especially if you start moving, to stay invisible like him… anyone who can achieve it without an Elder’s help, come find me! I’ll take you in on the spot!” She laughed, sending surprised murmurs through the stands while she walked back to the judges table, sitting down, nodding at Zern to continue.

“Ostavar.” Zern stepped forward.

“Yes!” He cupped his hands with expectation in his eyes.

“Your technique has room to improve.” He started, immediately bringing his heightened mood to the ground, prompting Lulu and Isha to click their tongues at the same time. “It is a strong defense against those who are good or proficient in close quarter fighting. But as soon as you come up against someone who is going to use long range attacks or can ignore your poison, you are going to be defenseless.”

“I… understand…” He whispered, with a cast down expression.

“On the bright side, your spell is water based, correct?” Zern asked.

“Yes.” He nodded. “I have water affinity.”

“The way you use water vapor to create the cloud was a good idea. Distilling poison and spreading it wide but still in a contained and controlled way speaks a lot about your diligence. Also, the speed you demonstrated, about the quick changing of its composition is a sign of your clever and sharp mind. What you need is combat experience to come up with answers for different scenarios.”

“Thank you, Elder Zern.” He cupped his hand as Zern nodded, walking before Sylvett, who now looked nervous.

“Your technique is very similar to mine.” He said.

“Yes, Elder.” The girl nodded. “I drew inspiration from it but converted to my affinity. My golden body is not as durable as Elder’s steel, it is way softer. So I needed to come up with something extra to give it an edge.”

“To convert the rebounding energy into sound waves and use it as an automatic counter attack. Genius!” Zern nodded, full of praise. “I want to accept you as a disciple!” He spoke up finally, stunning a lot of people.

Kirch quickly raised his head, looking over, leaning a bit forward, watching Sylvett’s expression but he was not the only one. The seconds seemed like minutes as everyone was waiting for her response. Even Sylvett was a little stunned. At first she wanted to say yes as soon as she heard his words, yet Ren’s voice echoed inside her mind the next moment.

Everybody knew how Zern conducted his lessons. He was strict but not the way Ren was. The Junior Sect Head was an easygoing person, even mischievous, going by the rumors. She was asking for a lot but in return, when there was downtime, she would bring her own disciples to have some fun. On the other hand Zern was known as someone who followed the Sect’s rules to the letter and always expected his disciples to do the same. He was hardworking, fair and gave it his all when it came to his students, just like his Master did. But amongst all of the elders, he was the most frigid.

“I…” She opened her mouth to speak, but needed another big breath to continue, looking into Zern’s eyes. “I refuse, I am sorry!” She cupped her hands, bowing deeply.

Zern was surprised but only for a second before nodding calmly while the rest just now realized what even happened. The silence was broken by Isha whose chuckle rang out pretty loudly while Ren just sat there, arms crossed, looking on with a smile. The second person to cry out was no other but Kirch.

“Then why did you beat me up?!” He pointed at her from the other end of the row.

“Shut up, I was angry! You did not tell me the Junior Sect Head wanted to take you in!” She retorted with a blushed, completely red face.

“That is no different than what you did right now!” He countered.

“Ugh, I’m not arguing with you about this right now!” She crossed her arms, looking the other way.

“Like some old couple…” Toobu murmured at their bickering, making Ariana standing next to him nod in agreement.

“Let’s continue!” Ren clapped, before it would get out of hand once again. “We still have five... six, contenders eager to demonstrate their spells!” She looked at Isha who stood up and walked forward, followed by the Outer Disciples' loud whistles and claps.

“Those who attended my classes know about the different abilities, rare and common alike.” Isha spoke up, silencing the clamoring of disciples. “The remaining five spells are from the most common affinity. Fire.” She raised her hand that lit aflame, gently dancing around her wrist like if it had its own intelligence “But being the most common does not mean being weak.” She smiled as the flame’s intensity grew and became nearly pure white in color. Everyone could feel the heat radiating from it, even at the highest stands, before she canceled the spell.

“First, Zaphil.” She looked at a man who was, from his exterior, around 20 years of age.

“Yes!” He stepped forward, bowing to Isha. “Elder.” He cupped his hands with a smile. He had short, black hair and eyes, with a slim yet tall build and a bronze colored skin.

“Good to see you too!” Isha chuckled with a warm expression which was no wonder.

There were a lot of inner disciples now who rose up in the past few years from the outer disciple status, just like Zaphil. When he arrived at the Sect he was an 18 year old boy, ready to embark on a journey to change his own life. Coming from a farmer’s family he wasn’t expecting anything yet when crossing the illusionary bridge towards his new fate, his life immediately changed. Being accepted was something he would never forget. It did not matter to him as to what rank he started out, because without effort, nobody can get to the top. He was amongst the first batch of outer disciples to raise their ranks and he attributed this to Isha’s clear and frequent open lessons.

A lot of inner disciples were aiming to catch an Elder’s attention and rise to the most elite of ranks between disciples, namely being a Core Disciple yet Zaphil thought differently. Being accepted into the final ranks of disciples are based on talent, personality, fate and luck. If even one is missing, he could only dream, like so many people do. He was satisfied with his rank. He knew his shortcomings and knew what he can and can not do. His only aim now was to reach the Harmony Realm and promote himself to be an Elder in the Sect then teach youngsters just like Isha and fill his own role. He wanted to pay back the Sect for his new, exciting life.

“Show us!” Isha encouraged him, while Zaphil stepped out forming seals with his hand that helped him memorize the way to direct his energies.

Quickly, embers were flickering off of his hand and forming into a 1,5 meter tall lion, only 5 seconds later. It had bright, intelligent eyes as it stood beside him, radiating heat. Where its paw touched the ground, it started to burn the sand, turning it into glass.

“You did good!” Isha nodded, looking at him, giving a signal to Zaphil to continue. He pointed out, sending the lion towards her.

The beast roared, spewing out flaming attacks as soon as the order was given, bombarding Isha, before rushing at her, trying to maul her to death. Of course the flame beast had no chance, Isha’s hand just grabbed it by its neck, lifting it up easily.

“Explode!” Zaphil shouted and at his command, his creature shone brightly, exploding in a blinding way, leaving behind a column of fire. As it was raging like a tornado Isha walked out of it with a smile, raising her hand, extinguishing it with a swipe.

“Your creature is more intelligent than what I can summon, following your spell.” She laughed with a happy voice.

“Thank you Elder!” Zaphil bowed with shining eyes. “The hand signals I performed were to code specified reactions to certain commands or events into the spellbody! That way I don’t need to constantly control it and can let it do its own thing, based on my instructions when creating it.”

“Very good! I am satisfied with what you achieved!” She walked before him, patting his shoulders, making Zaphil quickly blush, lowering his head. “How long can it be sustained and how far can it be extended?”

“Depends on the amount of energy put into it. It can go from a minute to 10 minutes. Not any longer yet or it would be too much of a burden on the caster! Also, it can take up to 6 preprogrammed orders. The orders themselves depend on the one who casts it. But every order adds an additional second or so to the casting time!”

“You thought about a lot of things, huh? Good! If we have disciples like you, our Sect’s future is guaranteed! I am looking forward to when you reach the Elder status and start helping me out with lessons!” Isha laughed, giving the highest praise for Zaphil he could ask for, bowing deeply towards Isha.

After he stood back to the line, Isha looked at the next contender, another twenty year old young man who was completely bald and even his eyebrows were missing. He looked ashamed when his gray eyes met with Isha’s, quickly lowering his head.

“Ahaha, step forward Jishan!” She chuckled, watching the stocky man step out nervously “Where is your curly, black mane from the top of your head?” She asked with a teasing voice.

“The spell… backfired…” Jishan murmured, making a lot of people laugh out, realizing why he was so… shiny.

“Accidents happen! There is no progress without risk.” Isha encouraged him, stepping sideways so he could demonstrate his spell.

He was in a similar position as Zaphil, starting out as an outer disciple, but 2 years ago, he could finally wear his new uniform. When he activated his spell, bluish flames rushed out from his body, quickly dressing him up in a blazing armor, reminiscent of a demonic being from old fables. Isha quickly signaled towards him and let Jishan attack her. Every time Jishan performed a hand to hand skill, the armor flickered and a flaming clone appeared where he previously stood, repeating his movements before exploding.

The quicker he attacked the more clones he left behind that continued to surround Isha but could not really harm her. When she finally struck back, her palm strike, that she was not holding back at all, landed on the armor. It was cracking it, sending Jishan skidding backwards yet the flaming armor quickly recovered to its perfect form, withstanding an attack from a Harmony Realm expert. It made the others clamor in surprise as everyone could tell that Isha really did not hold back at all.

“How long can you sustain it?” rang out her voice.

“Five minutes.” Jishan answered, dispelling his armor. “It consumes energy very quickly but as long as it is active, I am confident in taking three more hits from you, Elder!” He cupped his hands with excitement. “Also, it replicates every attack’s last sequence! It does it with about half of its initial strength but it can shake up the opponent’s rhythm!”

“But you must run or finish your enemy before you burn out.” Isha added with a smile “Still… There are few spells in our library that can save someone’s life against a higher level opponent. I think it is going to be popular as every three disciples from five of ours have a fire affinity! You are going to be a rich man!” She chuckled, prompting Jishan to follow suit with a hearty laugh before walking back to the line with a satisfied expression.

“Now, only the last three remain.” Ren stood up while Isha sat back to her spot with a satisfied smile “We left them as the last to showcase because… they are pure destruction based spells.” She clapped as the protective barrier quickly materialized around the arena, getting ready for the final showcase.