Everyone in the crowd froze in a various array of postures. Moments after they got to their seats the group battle ended, and in both ghastly and bloody manner, at that.
“Is… is that it?” Someone asked in a barely audible voice.
“In just a few seconds he took out five of the eight of them, killing three of them, not less…” Another person mentioned waveringly.
“How terrible, he even didn’t spare the woman…”
“Dad, dad, what Martial school this expert belongs to? Please sign me in!” Among the crowd, several of the most invigorated voices were of children, either crying in fear or full of admiration.
“You wish to learn this expert’s method, boy? Do you wish to die?”
The common people shared mix emotions as the group battle appeared to reach its conclusion. The Elite Tryouts occurred in the same location every couple of centuries, so of course they could not remember and compose themselves to the ferociousness and slaughter that were regulated in the fighting matches of the entertainment industry.
“Anyway, if this is just a quick skirmish for a new addition to tomorrow’s finals, then it was worth the trouble of getting early to save seats”.
Slowly more people were influenced by the hype. As horrifying as this group battle was, in the past year of the preliminaries there were many matches that ended gruesomely and then talked about in details in newspapers and all sort of establishment around the city, even in some of the congregations, and no matter how scary were the participants, the common people always felt secure due to the presence of the church and The Almighty in their hearts.
“I…” Funwa gritted his teeth. “Surrender”.
“I, too, give up“. The pink Two Headed Sparrow lowered both his heads in resignation, as well as discontent.
“Then leave the arena”. Sister Mafita’s voice rang in the ears of everyone within encompassing square. With a wave of hand she disintegrated the three bodies on the arena, sending four spatial rings to Zax.
Disgruntled, Funwas and the pink Two Headed Sparrow left in a walk and flight.
“What’s your name, contender?” Sister Mafita asked Zax.
“Karim, no last name, from everywhere in the Western Continent”. Zax answered, assuming the identity of a vagabond since it was easier to reply when being asked specific questions.
“Karim the wonderer, than. You are a bodily cultivator…. Not many appeared up till now in the preliminaries, and you also combine assassination techniques to your style”. She loudly assessed as if describing him to someone far away.
Zax stretched his lips to his hideous smile as means of confirmation.
“Go to the registration booth. If you registered as a ‘Later Arrival’ change it to ‘Participant’ and make sure to get a number”. Sister Mafita instructed and averted her attention to the crowd below. “All you, late Martial Mortals, who were patient for your turn and wish to join the Holy Palace, must first join Luminous Church and accumulate enough merit. Though Elite Tryouts are for Core Masters, during this time’s tryouts, staying with us as an esteemed guest is Cardinal Northstar. In his benevolence, Cardinal Northstar agreed to receive and take with him to the Holy Palace Martial Mortals who will prove their skills by either hunting the Pure Core of a Deformed Being comparable to fourth level Martial Mortal or ten Pure Cores of a Deformed Being comparable to third level Martial Mortal. These conditions also extend to Core Masters who may dare to accept them, be only sure to remember that The Almighty does not aid the foolish“.
Letting her words sink in everybody’s attentive ears, Sister Mafita held her hands in a praying gesture. “May The Almighty bless you”.
“May The Almighty bless you”. The common people, residents of the great Onzengvas city, repeated in union.
The registration booths closed in the evening, though after Zax, Els and Sioul no late arrivals, tested or not, could register.
The three that made it to the finals vanished from the Grand Abode’s zone quickly after registering. A large number of people desired moment of their time for interviews and signing signatures, but for the three the Elite Tryouts was not that type of event. If someone wants to capitalize on it, it had nothing to do with them.
Back at the base of the city, inside a two rooms unit in a cordial inn, Zax sat on his bed with the four rings lying on the white sheets. He rented the unit because he had to lay low, Onzengvas city had a curfew between ten at night to six in the morning and only people with permit, mostly business owners, could stay out late or leave their homes early.
‘All together two hundred and ten thousand Splinters, two second realm Pure Cores useful for cultivating to the third Core Master level, useless scrolls and weapons’. Zax viewed the items in the four spatial rings. Other than the Splinter even the Pure Cores were not worth giving to others or going through the trouble of selling. He stored them the spatial rings in his pocket, the spaces inside them were reasonable in size, so they might be useful in the future.
Lying with his hands behind his head, deliberating and his eyes gazing at the wooden ceiling of the room, Zax recounted the zone of the Grand Abode. ‘It’s extremely large, but the structure is actually accessible to the public. I assume through specific corridors and rooms…’ It was helpful to know that if he would change his appearance he will be able to enter the Grand Abode inconspicuously. ‘Tomorrow the finals start and will continue for a seven days. Eight hundred contenders who passed with the best marks the preliminaries’ initial tests of ability and combat and two hundred who seeds of the church‘.
From what he was told in the registration booth, the preliminaries will hold three advanced tests of ability and will officially end after an inevitable Martial competition, which afterwards the top hundred participants will be selected.
‘A test of understanding the attribute, a test of soul, a test of Martial art and a fight’. Zax counted them, closing his eyes. It had been a long time since he allowed himself just a regular rest, not cultivation of the body or the soul, not pursuing the sixth bottleneck of insight. Leaning on his left side, his last thought before falling asleep was halfway discarded. There was no point overthinking what tomorrow would bring.
The ascension to the Grand Abode was as pecked as the day before the finals. Zax did not mingle with the masses, which forty percent of came from the base of the city, residents, travelers of all statuses. The remaining thirty percent were the aristocrats’ circle of Onzengvas city, whose seats nobody could touch.
The one thousand and three participants had a designated open area, which consisted of a spacious resting place, a varied catering and prayer corner, should they seek The Almighty’s favor in their endeavors. Only they and members of the church could enter, while those who came to spectate could cheer and shouts whatever they wanted from outside. The church did not invest in a muting formation for the designated area, any one of the participant could erect it on their own for intimate peace of mind.
‘Neyrar!’ Zax caught a glimpse of the extremely handsome twenty looking fellow, which was half a head shorter than his real appearance, had long black hair and green eyes. ‘Back then, after I’d broken thought the sixth gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, senior Ariel said that we are fairly equal in strength. Senior Gid also holds him with much regard. However I’m much stronger than three and a half years ago. If you are still able to match me, then I wonder what sort of lucky encounters you had…’ Zax did not disparage Neyrar’s talent. From his perspective if Neyrar had found the Black Core, then he would have just as better chance as he has to inherit Legacy Of The One’s Path.
‘He noticed me’. Zax turned his head.
Neyrar’s senses alerted him to his gaze not because only he looked at him. During the preliminaries his performance drew a lot of attention and many of the contenders viewed as a threat. The eyes which Neyrar sought back were those whose glare ticked him off.
‘Eh! They are also here!’ Zax was surprised when his line of sight intersected with the familiar figures of Benni, Shila, Nirik Je, Hason, and Bin Bin. ‘These guys also here’. He thought of the other four member of the group, Liminton, Vals, Enderta, Zenkai but ended up not looking for them, assuming the four Martial Mortals are in the crowd somewhere.
He also recognized the nine lucky contenders of the Martial competition of back than in Kingdom Earth, those who joined the five powers with Neyrar, however they were at least a grade or two lower than the latter and other than seeing them as compatriots there was not a more intimate connection left between them and Zax.
The spectators filled their seats, and even the centralized seating stages for members of the church were nearly at full capacity.
A figure, first level Martial Mortal priest, seemingly thirty years old, stepped into the arena and an amplified voice rang in a customary opening, welcoming the crowd, sharing with them a prayer of gratitude to The Almighty, recapping notable displays during the preliminaries, describing the phases of the official tryouts and mentioning some do and don’t for the spectators before finally calling the contenders to the arena.
“All participants asked to enter the arena; the first trial is soon to begin!” The priest announcer’s voice boomed with excitement as a white, semi transparent dome shaped mantle surrounded the arena.
Zax and the thousand and two contenders entered the arena, the beasts among them in either human or humanoid form. Some of them responded to the cheering, most were busy examining the mantle. Other than the noticeably light attribute energy making it, it gave no indication of its purpose.
“Please allow me to welcome”, the priest ecstatically directed the crowd’s attention to the highest stage and the two highest rows of empty seats. “Our Luminous Church’s holy Bishops, The Almighty’s blessed shields and swords!” Following his announcement those in the crowd who were residents of the city or members of great families in some of the other cities belonging to the church burst in applause as six figure flew from the Grand Abode, four women and two men, the fourth level Martial Mortals of the church, and took the second highest row of seats.
All six had cordial auras radiating from them, like warm rays of light after a storm. They were beautiful and enchanting, had the kind of appearance that others will keep evoking in their minds for many days.
‘Sinister Chain has two members comparable to fourth level and Luminous Church alone has six…’ Zax ruminated.
The priest announcer continued. “Next I want to welcome the two prominent figure we all been waiting for! Our Luminous Church’s holy Archbishop Silternjan and Cardinal Northstar!” His tongue halted as he did not dare presume himself knowing Archbishop Silternjan’s and Cardinal Northstar’s echelon as servants of The Almighty.
Two figures flew from the Grand Abode, two elderly men. Archbishop Silternjan had a bald head, a long white beard and mustache. He looked as old as a ninety years old man, but his blue eyes and expression on his face were brimming with vigor. Cardinal Northstar resembled a man in his sixties whose white hair still retained dark areas. His resting expression was stringent but the lightest twitch of his lips gave the impression of a forming heartfelt smile.
Behind the Archbishop and Cardinal flew two more figures, a young nun and a young man in clerical clothing.
Zax recognized them immediately as the postulant, Sister Iaura and the Ascended Elite, His Young Eminence. His eyes skimmed the seating stage they headed to together with Archbishop Silternja and Cardinal Northstar and at the third row he discovered Sister Beatriz.
Sister Iaura and His Young Eminence joined Archbishop Silternja and Cardinal Northstar standing next to the four highest seats.
Archbishop Silternja opened with amplified voice. “May The Almighty guide us through our path”. His words resonated as if they actually had the powers to direct the poor through the ups and downs of life; although only second level Core Master and below were influenced. “Thank you, participants, spectating guests, for sharing your presence with us in the first official day of the Elite Tryouts”. He smiled and countless faces involuntarily did the same. “You all heard the rules repeatedly during the past year and priest Armin, in his kindness, helped us remember them again, so I won’t bore you with further discussing them. May we have prosperous tryouts and good luck to everyone!”