Chapter 20: Cultivation

 Darius and Lara stood in a wide, empty space. They were unsure of what to do next. The arena took up the entire ground floor of the academy. It had to be that large in order to handle the large formations used for the noble exams and other complex exercises. The cave, forest, and orange sphere were gone. All that remained was a vast, empty white room.

At that moment, Lady Katya appeared in front of both of them. “Congratulations on passing the first test. As I have already mentioned, for many of you, this was the only test required, but for some of you, this was simply the first of four dynamic events.”

Darius cringed at the thought of doing this three more times, dreading the prospect that this would only get harder.

“If you were unable to kill a spirit, you will now be taken back to your respective rooms.” The woman paused then continued, “And, because to the victor go the spoils, the rest will now be taken to the Knighting room. Your prizes await.”

As soon as she finished speaking, Darius felt a fleeting sensation. It happened so quickly that he wasn’t sure whether he had felt anything at all. It was like every molecule in his body felt fuzzy like static. While Darius reflected over what he had just felt, he realized something. He was now in another room altogether. They had teleported him to another room!

A look of childlike wonder appeared once again on his face as he stared at the room he was now standing in. The roof was at least twenty meters high, and a dim light streamed in through large, stained glass windows depicting several images Darius couldn’t comprehend. He was at the back of the room, his hammer gripped firmly in his right hand.

The Knighting room was long and narrow, with large and intricately detailed statues on both sides. Each statue was exactly the same as the one opposing it.

Lara appeared immediately beside Darius, promptly followed by six other nobles, each appearing one after the other. Although teleportation was the fastest way to travel, it required massive amounts of energy; thus, it was not used in most places. In addition, it could only be used at short-ranges without causing any major side effects. This was also why people could only be teleported one at a time. The effects of the .01 percent of 99.99%-converted-mass teleportations were, in a word, disturbing.

An elderly man walked in front of them, an odd grin plastered on his face.

“Come forward and receive the right of cultivation.” His voice was loud and crisp. Darius hesitated but proceeded with the rest toward the altar where the man stood. He ignored the suspicious looks cast at him by the other nobles. 

As he walked, the statues shifted. Each was a smith, with a hammer in its hands. The first pair of smith statues raised their hammers high as Darius passed. The right one had an anvil with a large blade on top stationed in front of them while its counterpart had a shield resting on its anvil.

Both smiths struck down. The sound they made an unmistakable ring in Darius’s ears. As he walked forward, he realized these statues were smithing. The anvils slid forward a place, the smiths in front of it copied the statues from before. Darius noticed something: the statues appeared ancient looking, chipped and cracked all over, but as they struck the anvil, it was as if they were being restored. He continued on as each pair of statues did the same thing one after the other.

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The other nobles followed closely behind. Finally, as he reached the altar, the two anvils reached the last two statues. These were not smiths but, Darius assumed, Spiritknights. The knight statues then wore the forged sword and shield respectively, faced the Spiritsmiths and took a knee, bowing their heads to the smiths.

The white carpet that was laid on the path between the statues leading up to the altar formed a capital ‘T.’ The man gestured for Darius to kneel at the left side of the altar with Lara and the other nobles kneeling beside him.

“Stretch out your hands.” the man’s clear voice rang out. Two spheres appeared in Darius’s hands. They resembled giant, magical marbles. One was slightly reddish, while the other was pale grey. As Darius held them, he felt as if there was something swirling inside them.

“Now, cultivate,” he simply ordered as he walked off.

Darius glanced at Lara and the other nobles. They all seemed to be in deep concentration.

What does he mean by ‘cultivate’? Darius looked down at the two spheres in his hands and immediately recognized one of them. It was the one he had made earlier in the arena. It almost felt alive in his hands as the orbs vibrated.

Darius put the other one down and focused on the one he’d made. The energy he sensed sent ripples throughout his entire body. He closed his eyes and focused on it. He felt the energy fluctuating inside. He saw in his mind as the energy traveled up his arms and down his body, stopping just below his navel. Just as a warm sensation spread there, something else happened. The energy exploded, spreading like wildfire throughout his body. Darius suddenly stood up. A rush of energy coursed through his veins.

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“Whoah!”

He had never felt anything like this before. He could feel it as it entered every fiber of his being. The energy was becoming his own. The first orb depleted, Darius grabbed the next one. Cupping it in both hands, he absorbed all the energy contained inside. The other nobles felt the exact same thing. Energy rushed through all of them.

His heart racing, Darius felt energized like never before. He radiated an urge to fight. He picked his hammer up, eager for something to kill.

The man re-appeared behind them. “For those of you that will continue with the next trials, your Spiritknight training begins now.”

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