Enzo was currently walking with Gris along the upper level of the array approaching the four rock platforms.
Gris had a rare smile on his face as he looked ahead.
"I used an Art on him earlier."
"An Art?" Enzo asked with slight confusion.
"You don't know what an Art is?" Gris was slightly surprised, though it didn't show much on his face.
"I don't." Enzo was slightly embarrassed. He wasn't purposefully shunning the world, he was simply just too young and inexperienced.
"Arts are what we use in combat as a way to release elemental energy." Gris explained.
"So what you used earlier…"
"That was a Guiding Art my master taught me, it's exclusive to his disciples so you won't be able to learn it. However you can still visit the library and pick an art of your own once you meet the mark." Gris consoled.
"I see!" Enzo's eyes brightened.
Suddenly Gris slowed down to a stop and looked to his right.
"This platform's empty, I'll go up first and you can watch."
Gris began walking across a small bridge that lead to the massive rock platform. Once on, he made his way to the foremost position and closed his eyes as he readied himself. He had done this many times in the past and he knew what was coming.
Enzo stood by the sidelines watching on. Recalling what he read from the slate by the entrance, he somewhat knew what was happening. Once one laid foot onto the platform, it would give 30 seconds of preparation before beginning.
Enzo mentally counted down the time, interested in seeing what would follow.
"Ha..ha...ha…" Heavy breathing could be heard coming from one of the three dueling arenas. Two figures could be seen exchanging blows. There were no weapons, only a clash of fundamentals. Suddenly, one of the figures took a stance and without any warning threw a punch with heavy force behind it. As though within his expectations, the other party sidestepped, and with a flick of his wrist negated the force entirely. Having thrown his all into that punch, the other figure reluctantly knelt down, grasping his right arm tightly.
"You've improved tremendously since the last time we sparred, however, your[Rock Fist]has yet to reach the second level." With his hands behind his back, the man looked down at the kneeling figure dotingly.
"Kaiden, you should let go of your grudges, you're only hindering yourself. It's not worth it."
Gritting his teeth, Kaiden tightly clenched his fists.
"Emsa, I'm grateful that you've always been there for me since I came to this School…...but you know that's impossible…"
Hearing Kaiden's words, Esma shook his head.
"If you hadn't decided to walk this path, you would have surpassed me, perhaps standing as equals to the top disciples of the School."
Kaiden simply looked at the arena floor, seemingly deep in thought.
Turning around, Esma sighed.
"Unless you reach Core Guiding stage, you'll never be able to perform the second stance of [Rock Fist]no matter how many hours of practice you put in. You've read it's requirements."
With a resolute look on his face, Kaiden struggled to stand back up.
"I know….but my father always told me hard work will always pay off. I've kept his words close to my heart and made sure to follow them, to keep his will alive."
Turning back around, Esma stared at Kaiden and acknowledged his determination in face of the impossible. Kaiden was always one to use his hardships as fuel to better himself and those around him.
"You're admirable, that's why I'm willing to give my all to help you, it's a shame our constitutions differed and I couldn't help you enter the Core Guiding stage."
If only those top factions hadn't chosen to monopolize the majority of our school's manuals, we would had easily been able to rival Winterville, what a shame.
Suddenly a short disciple could be seen running over towards the dueling arenas holding a scroll. He was in his late teens, however his small stature made him look much younger.
"Little Han? What is it?"
He wouldn't rush over and shout his name for no reason, especially when he was busy conversing with another person.
"You need to see this!" Tossing the scroll onto the stage, Esma caught it and without wasting any time unraveled it.
Viewing it's contents, Esma's eyes widened and a look of excitement swiftly filled his face.
"I can't believe this!"
Kaiden looked on in confusion.
"What is it?"
With a chuckle, Esma tossed the scroll over.
"Have a look yourself."
Reading the scroll, Kaiden's brows rose as he muttered in astonishment.
"Is this real!?" He looked up at Esma in confirmation.
"From my past experiences, I believe this scroll to be legitimate. Consider yourself lucky, with this I can see you resolving your grudge and reaching greater heights!" With a laugh, Esma hopped down from the dueling platform and put his hand on Little Han's shoulder.
"Just where did you find this?"
"It was Kung, he released them! He did it under the guise of retelling the events at Winterville!" Little Han quickly spoke of everything he knew.
"I see!" Esma's eyes glistened in understanding. "I didn't think that people pleaser had it in him! From the sound of it he's probably planning to quit the school. Only an elder could possibly face the repercussions of releasing this many manuals to the masses."
Esma chuckled to himself and looked up into the sky.
"I wonder where he'll go…"
Approaching the back gate to the School of Initiation, were a class of disciples lead by two elders. It was comprised of the School's utmost elite. There were only ten, and each of them had competed in the Winterville spar, possessing the most experience amongst those from the School. At the forefront of the group stood a relatively round elder. It was Elder Gulab, the man who sat in the third position amidst the five elders. He was currently smiling whilst snacking on a loaf of bread; leading the way towards the back gate. Beside him stood Elder Delir, the man who was in the second position, only beneath Headmaster Ghazan and the first elder, Elder Muge. He had thick bags under his eyes and his arms were stiff, nearly unmoving as he maintained his pace with Elder Gulab.
Following closely behind the elders were the two most promising disciples from the School of Initiation, Kase and Kaawa. Kaawa had a slightly upset look on his face, while Kase, although eyes buried behind his charcoal gray bangs, wore a slight smirk. Everyone in the group besides Kase and the two elders had their clothing torn and unkempt, as though having fought an intense battle before arriving.
As if on cue, the back gate began to slowly open and what greeted them was an aged voice.
"All of you...welcome back."
Entering the School, the group could see Headmaster Ghazan making his way over from the square.
"I see you all had a fruitful journey?"
Some from the crowd instinctively looked down at their disorderly appearance with a wry grin.
Elder Ghazan chuckled and was about to speak words of consolement when he noticed a peculiar look coming from the man behind Elder Delir. It was Kase.
Seeing Headmaster Ghazan gaze at him with that look, he knew he couldn't hide it any longer. Shaking his head, he moved the bangs that blocked his eyes and with his hand, quickly entered the depths of his uniform. Taking a quick glance at everyone, he looked back over at Headmaster Ghazan before speaking.
"This is what I found in the newborn desolate zone."
A blinding glint suffused the entire crowd and a powerful energy radiated from Kases' hand.
Three small crystals sat snuggly in his palm, enticing everyone.
Headmaster Ghazan's eyes widened in disbelief as his mouth went dry.
"I...I-is that…!" Struggling to get any words out, he looked at Kase in anticipation.
"If my deduction isn't wrong, these are Stratum Shards!" Holding them up high, Kase gazed at them with a brilliant look in his eyes.
The crowd of elites also looked on with fervent admiration, envy and greed.
"That…!" Taking a step closer, Headmaster Ghazan put his arm out but quickly stopped himself.
Kase gave a sidelong glance and lightly smiled.
"Of course as a disciple of this School, It would be improper of me to not gift a shard to my favorite headmaster," Breaking apart from the crowd, everyone's gaze was focused solely on him.
Headmaster Ghazan knew there would be a catch so he quickly shouted.
"Please state your needs, I will do my utmost to fulfill them!" Under normal circumstances, Headmaster Ghazan would never act this desperate and anxious, however the stakes had changed. Even amongst all the Schools in a million mile radius, you'd struggle to find a single one who could take out a Stratum Shard. If he could get his hands on merely a small portion, he would immediately rise up the ranks and enter the first stratum, following the footsteps of their founder!
"Let's you and I head to your accommodation and we can discuss this further." Looking at the surrounding crowd, this wasn't the place to be discussing sensitive information.
Nodding his head, Headmaster Ghazan gazed at the elite disciples.
"You all are dismissed."
He then looked at the two elders who stood at the side.
"We will all be having an important meeting tomorrow, I expect to see the both of you there. It relates to the survival of our school, keep that in mind if you decide to not show up."
Turning around, he walked in the direction of his accomodation, Kase tailing closely behind.