It is the third day of the competition, the numbers of competitors for the singles tournament had been reduced to a quarter at the start of the day. During the first day, half of the competitors were knocked out and reduced to approximately 1.5 million.
The second day required each match winner to participate in 2 matches, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Of the 1.5 million who made it the first day, half that amount progressed into the afternoon matches.
During the afternoon matches, many forfeited as they went all out in the morning matches and failed to conserve their energies. At the end of the second day only about 375 thousand remained.
In order for them to progress further, they had to win four matches each day from the third day onwards. It was an agoge* system, where only the smartest, toughest and strongest could achieve glory.
(*Author’s note: agoge is the system where Spartans used for their men. It was similar to a coming of age ceremony, but the impact was more profound.)
“You have done very well for the past three matches,” Instructor Wei complimented him.
“Thank you Mentor,” Xiaoxia responded while cupping his hands.
The matches on the second day finished just as fast as the one he had on the first day. Xiaoxia’s fan base appeared immediately after the first day, and he received many fan mails from older students wanting to be his sworn brothers and sisters.
Many of the fan mails from the older girls had borderline ‘younger brother complex’. Some even going as far as to offer transferring to the Academy of the Six Elements to take care of him.
Of course there were some hate mails, and they all came from guys who were jealous at the attention he was getting from girls they liked. It was not surprising as the majority of Xiaoxia’s growing fan base are girls.
“There are four matches today, if you meet a tough opponent, take your time and conserve your energy for the remaining ones,” Instructor Wei advised him.
“Mentor, from the information you gathered, is there any way to know who the next three are?” Xiaoxia asked.
“Getting confident are we? You shouldn’t count your chicks before they are hatched,” she replied.
“Sorry, I was just wondering,” Xiaoxia apologized.
“It’s ok, even if you win this next match, I would not know who your next opponent is, till an hour before the match. All opponents are randomized now, you will only know who it is at the final few stages of this competition,” she informed him, and continued, “It is a way to limit the abuse of knowing who your opponent is beforehand.”
“Abuse?” Xiaoxia asked, not clear of the implications.
“Plenty of money is being waged on matches, certain syndicates have been known to use despicable means to ensure the matches ends up in their favor. There are also students who will gang up to beat an opponent before a match just to ensure victory,” Instructor Wei informed him.
“With just an hour, most participants are already in their locker rooms, and security is high there. This will prevent any mishaps from happening before a match. For the later stages, the number of participants are small enough for security to be deployed to protect them individually,” she concluded.
Xiaoxia nodded at that, and focused his attention on the information of the next opponent. She was a Duelist Realm 4th Tier, similar to one of the opponents the previous day. However this was the first time he had to fight a girl and he was reluctant to do so.
“Do not go easy on her, even if she is a girl. It will be an insult to her, the pugilist code does not differentiate gender when it comes to duels,” Instructor Wei warned him, noticing his looks as he read the information.
There was over 10,000 empires with many cultures and beliefs, and the pugilist code is one in which everyone who practice the martial arts abides by. All man who abides by this code knew it well, it was not the same as never hitting a woman.
“You should leave for the competitor’s entrance, its almost time,” Instructor Wei told him, giving a thumbs up and left the room.
“Yes Mentor, thank you,” Xiaoxia replied.
While walking to the competitor’s entrance, he was wondering how the rest of his friends were faring for the competition.
“I forfeit,” the girl said.
“Huh?” the guy replied.
“Phreeee!” the referee blew the whistle.
Within seconds the entire stadium exploded with the shouts of disapproval, boos and jeers. It was the first match for Xiaoxia, and everyone was expecting to see the splendid techniques he used in the earlier matches. They were not even paying attention to the other 9 battle dais in the stadium.
“Blue side wins!” the referee announced.
“Hey! What is the meaning of this?” Xiaoxia felt aggravated as he called out after her, it was not honorable to forfeit a match without doing anything.
The girl ignored him and already gotten off the dais. Xiaoxia wanted to chase after her to demand an explanation, but the rules disallowed the interactions of participants 10 minutes before and after a match.
Shaking his head in while calming down, he walked back towards the competitor’s lounge. There he met Instructor Wei who was sitting beside a stranger.
“Xia Er, come take a sit,” Instructor Wei told him.
“Yes Mentor,” Xiaoxia answered and sat next to her.
“Well met young Master,” the stranger spoke, she was a lady who looked like she just passed her teen years.
“I am the undersecretary for her Royal Grace, the Imperial Arch Duchess, Amelie,” she started before adding, “My name is Xu Mei.”
“Undersecretary Xu is here as an advance party, to pave the way for her Royal Grace’s visit,” Instructor Wei informed Xiaoxia.
“Aunt Amelia is coming?” Xiaoxia asked Xu Mei.
“Xia Er! Where are your manners, you should address the Imperial Arch Duchess as her ‘Royal Grace’,” Instructor Wei reprimanded him, she was his Mentor and it reflected badly on her if he did not show the proper manners.
“Ah, Instructor Wei, it is by order of her Royal Grace that he calls her ‘Aunt’,” Xu Mei kindly informed her, while turning to Xiaoxia, “Yes her Royal Grace wishes to spectate your matches.”
Unseen to anyone, one of Instructor Wei’s eyebrows shot up in respond to what she heard.
“Xia Er, just how close are you to her Royal Grace?” Instructor Wei asked, rather curious.
“I was only at her palace for about 2 nights,” Xiaoxia replied.
“Oh? It seems you made a very good impression of yourself,” she replied.
“I don’t know, but I think she just loves children,” Xiaoxia shrugged his shoulders, having this knowledge only because he joined the conversation Amelia and Maling were in.
“Young master, you discount yourself too much. Her Royal Grace wouldn’t give any child her personal quantum bag as well as a universal spatial bank,” Xu Mei smiled in respond to his sentence.
“Personal quantum bag and universal spatial bank?” Instructor Wei asked, her hands were trembling slightly.
Xiaoxia was beginning to feel that Instructor Wei is not all that he suspected her to be. Apparently she had materialistic tendencies.
“Yes, but that is a confidential matter only between young master and her Royal Duchess. He is not allowed to reveal the contents in them,” Xu Mei informed Instructor Wei, noticing her demeanor.
“Ah, no problem, it’s not likely anyone would ask,” Xiaoxia quickly responded, as he felt a cold chill emanating from Instructor Wei.
“Then I will make my move, there are many things to arrange before the Imperial Arch Duchess arrives tonight,” Xu Mei stood up, bowed and left the room.
When she left the room, Instructor Wei was seething, “Who the hell does she think she is? In my whole life no one had ever insinuated that I will go against my principals just for money!”
“Mentor, do not mind her, I will share anything I have with you,” Xiaoxia offered.
“Xia Er, you are a good boy, how can I ever make it up to you,” Instructor Wei’s attitude suddenly changed and her tone was dripping with honey.
Xiaoxia at that point felt he had made a grievous mistake.
“Mm! This is life,” Xiaoxia breathe out deeply, as he snuggled on his couch laying his head on the armrest.
The remaining three matches ended without any controversy and the results did not deviate much from the previous ones. Xiaoxia won all of them without breaking a sweat.
This evening, he was invited to the guest residence of the Academy for visiting dignitaries. Amelia would be arriving with her entourage at the 21st hour, giving Xiaoxia 2 more hours to rest and prepare after his final bout ended.
“Knock knock knock! Its me sir,” there was a knock on his door and Fred announced it was him.
“Fred? What time is it?” Xiaoxia asked sleepily, having dozed off.
“Sir may I enter?” Fred asked.
“Um, yes sure,” Xiaoxia replied, quickly getting up.
“Sir, I suggest you change quickly, you have important guest here,” Fred said as he enter the room.
“Huh? Ok ok,” he quickly got off the couch and slipped on a new shirt as he made his way out of the room.
“Xiaoxia it’s been a while,” a familiar voice said.
“Aunt Amelia! I thought you would be here later,” Xiaoxia looked at her with surprise.
“Travelling with an entourage is troublesome, and they take too long going through every detail,” she replied.
“How are you?” Xiaoxia asked while taking a sit in front of her.
“Same old same old, that bastard Maling would have come if it wasn’t for some intrusion of wild beast in a key region,” Amelia updated him and made an additional remark, “I can see the Academy has been treating you well,”
“Yes, they provided everything for me,” Xiaoxia replied and turned towards Fred, “Can you please have some refreshments brought for us, and leave us alone after that?”
“Yes sir. Your Royal Grace if I may?” Fred acknowledged and asked as he bowed towards Amelia.
“Yes please carry on,” she answered.
When he left the room, Amelia said something to Xiaoxia’s surprise, “What an outstanding spy.”
“He is a spy?” Xiaoxia asked incredulously.
“Yes, there are always subtle signs to look out for if you know where to look,” she said smiling at him.
“I would never have guessed,” Xiaoxia admitted.
“Do you think Menon would just leave you to the Academy without being able to monitor your progress?” Amelia asked.
“I am sorry, I do not understand,” he honestly had no idea what it meant.
“You are a very important subject for Menon, he needs regular feedback to update his notes,” Amelia enlightened him and went on, “His studies on racial beings are extremely limited, and he falls short on the number of Unknown Realm volunteers. When you came along, it was the greatest opportunity of a lifetime, he now have the perfect candidate in a perfect environment for his research.”
“Oh, I always wondered why he went through all the effort to bring me here,” Xiaoxia now comprehend why Menon even risked offending Instructor Wei.
“Knock knock! Its Fred sir,” the door opened and Fred entered with some refreshments. He left them on the lounge table, bowed towards Amelia and headed out the door.
Before he could close it, he quickly turn around and announced, “Your Royal Grace, the guests you asked for has arrived.”
“Send them in,” Amelia motioned for Fred to go ahead.
Two children about Xiaoxia’s age entered the room.
“Your Royal Grace,” a boy bowed down, when he saw Amelia. It was Xiaofeng.
“Your Royal Grace,” this time a girl bowed down, her eyes were wide with amazement when she saw both Amelia and Xiaoxia together. It was Qing Shijie.
“Xiaofeng! How have you been?” Xiaoxia asked.
“You know them?” Amelia interjected before Xiaofeng could reply, while turning to the other children, “You may rise.”
“Thank you your Royal Grace,” both replied.
“Aunt Amelia, I only know the boy, but have no idea who the girl is,” Xiaoxia answered Amelia’s question.
“What impudence! How dare you call her Royal Grace ‘Aunt’! You don’t have the right to refer to me as ‘the girl’ as well!” Qing Shijie loudly rebuked Xiaoxia in a voice full of arrogance and contempt.
“Shut the hell up!” Amelia shouted, both Xiaofeng and Qing Shijie turned visibly pale at that moment.
“Qing Huiling, you do not speak when not spoken to, and kneel when you are in my presence,” Amelia demanded.
Tears of anger were in *Huiling’s eyes as she bit her lips and knelt in front of Amelia. Xiaofeng did that as well.
(Author’s note: I will be using Huiling for Qing Shijie this point onwards.)
“Shi Feng, you may rise,” Amelia told Xiaofeng.
At this point, Huiling started to rise as well, but then Amelia raised her voice immediately, “Not you, continue kneeling.”
Huiling was trembling in anger, with tears almost overflowing from her eyes.
“Aunt Amelia, should we really be doing this?” Xiaoxia asked.
“Xiaoxia, you will understand in a moment,” Amelia promised him.
“Shi Feng, do you know Xiaoxia?” Amelia asked.
“Yes your grace, we met at the carnival during the opening day of the competition,” Xiaofeng replied.
“No what I meant is do you know,” Amelia emphasized the word ‘know’.
Realizing what she meant, Xiaofeng replied, “Only very recently your Royal Grace.”
“And I am to take it you did not inform her?” Amelia asked Xiaofeng while pointing towards Huiling.
“Your Royal Grace, Princess Qing have ordered me not to bring up Xiaoxia’s name regardless of anything,” Xiaofeng replied.
At this point Huiling was staring daggers at Xiaofeng.
“Huiling, just so you know. Xiaoxia has been proclaimed a national treasure by mandate of the Emperor and any unsanctioned acts against him will be treated as treason,” Amelia informed Huiling.
At this point Huiling eyes were wide opened as she realized what was just said. She almost started to speak, but held her silence.
“You may speak,” Amelia noticed at that time.
“Your Royal Grace, I really did not know,” Huiling mumbled softly.
Xiaofeng was shocked too, he was not privy to this as well, nothing was in the report regarding this matter. More worrisome was that he had struck out at Xiaoxia only a few days back.
“Now you do, your uncle and his subordinates are currently held in prison for planning to cripple Xiaoxia because of you,” Amelia notified her.
At this point tears streamed down Huiling’s face.
“Aunt Amelia, isn’t this too harsh? They did not know,” Xiaoxia interrupted at this point, he himself was surprised, but felt the punishment too harsh.
“Xiaoxia they have to be an example to others. It doesn’t mean that anyone in the royal courts could do anything they wish against their own people. There are laws protecting the people of Hu Yuan, and these bastards should have considered it before they made their move,” she informed him and continued, “The law is created to protect the people, it is just as bad if it were someone else, even if their target was not you.”
“I understand,” Xiaoxia replied, injustice was not tolerated among the local populace, let alone those who had power. It was truly much different from other areas of the world where corruption is widespread. Xiaoxia learnt this in his lessons with Sem.
“Huiling, do you know what you did wrong?” Amelia asked.
Huiling just nodded her head, too embarrassed and ashamed to speak.
“I did not hear you,” Amelia said.
“Yes your Royal Grace,” Huiling softly mumbled.
“Good, you may leave. Do not let me catch you doing anything otherwise, I have my people closely watching you,” Amelia wave her away.
Xiaofeng was about to leave as well, but Amelia stopped him as he turned.
“Shi Feng, she most probably won’t trust you anymore, however I need you to keep an eye out as well,” Amelia said to him after Huiling had left. This was much to his relief, as he thought she held him back for trying to punch Xiaoxia.
“Yes your Royal Grace,” Xiaofeng replied, and with Amelia’s permission left the room as well.
As Amelia and Xiaoxia continued their conversation, Huiling had reached the ground floor. Xiaofeng did not catch up with her, as he decided to wait till she left the dormitory’s grounds before leaving himself.
“I will have my revenge for this insult!” Huiling thought angrily to herself. She decided that the only way to get back at Xiaoxia was to destroy him in the competition.
The competition is sanctioned by all empires who sent their representatives, it was a fair duel. If Xiaoxia was injured in a duel, the opponent will not be held accountable, hence Huiling wanted to ‘accidently’ kill or seriously injure him.
It is the fourth day of the competitions, midway through the singles tournament. Xiaoxia is waiting for Instructor Wei to arrive with information on his first opponent, it was a few minutes away till the system announced it.
Once the opponent was known, Instructor Wei had to obtain additional details from the information brokers, they would send it to her as instructed.
At this point, Xiaoxia was thinking back on the previous night’s event. Huiling did not have the look of ever giving up her plans. He had a gut feeling she will somehow find a loophole and exploit it.
Amelia also knew that Huiling was very stubborn, and it wasn’t the first time she had done something terrible to someone. At her young tender age of 7, there were numerous families who were destroyed by her. She told Xiaoxia to watch his back.
Her father who is a king, pampered his only daughter shamelessly. She took this opportunity to rid those who she did not like, regardless if they have offended her or not. The worse part, is that numerous people in the palace were removed and sent to remote areas of the kingdom. It was just because she did not like the way they look or speak among other minor things.
“Xiaoxia, the information for your next opponent just arrived,” Instructor Wei appeared at the doorway, her voice breaking the reverie of Xiaoxia.
“Mentor, who is it this time?” Xiaoxia asked once he gathered his thoughts.
“It’s a Humanoid Being,” she replied.