"That was quite the showing."
I turned around to see Markem, grinning at me. "I didn"t expect you to end it that fast, although I knew you wouldn"t lose. There"s not many that can actually hit me, especially someone who only formed their first core days ago."
"Hard work," I replied.
He snorted. "Clearly, but something else."
I frowned and he laughed, patting me on the shoulder.
"Calm down, I"m not asking you to reveal any secrets," He said. "I don"t particularly care either way, although don"t be surprised if elder Samuel wants to chat with you if you win you"re next, nothing bad of course."
After my fight had been done, I headed back to the other steel heart disciples. So far things had come out evenly for the most part although the twin horn had one more than the steel heart, something which they bragged about. It was stupid, but I didn"t care, although my fellow displace seemed to want to march over and start a fight. Even though I was a member of the steel heart, I didn"t want to get involved in the back and forth between them and the twin horn. I just wanted the benefits.
My number was called up again along with the number ten, my opponent. He was a brutish man, and just like my first opponents, he sneered at me. When the match began I rushed forward, wanting to get it over with.
God, it really did sound stupid when they called an attack out.
He pushed a hand forward, palm out, and a ball of fire began to build. He smiled, apparently confident in his victory. I rolled my eyes and formed a lashing vine, which wrapped around his leg. I pulled and his smile faded as he was pulled forward, directly into my waiting knee. Honestly, did any of these people know how to actually fight? I"d seen a few using some basic martial arts, but most had been like this guy, using technique and brute force and speed.
He tried to get up but I quickly kicked his back, sending him back down. A moment later I was declared the victor.
I shook my head as I headed back to the steel heart group, nodding and returning the smiles they gave me.
The rest of the fights ended soon after, and out of forty-eight, twelve remained, six from the twin horn and six from the steel heart, which was sort of suspicious. Either it was coincidence or fate, not that it mattered to me. All I had on my mind was the warp seed.
Deon called the twelve of us over, and I was unhappy to see that Jason had also made it through.
"Be here early tomorrow, if you"re late, you"re disqualified."
With that, he sent us on our way, although halfway out of the area, I was intercepted by Leyton and Thomas.
"Holy fuck, since when could you fight that well," Leyton asked. "I mean I know you"re good but damn."
"He"s right," Thomas added. "I haven"t seen you use that style before. Where"d you learn it?"
"Something I picked up from one of my aunt"s books," I replied. I wasn"t about to say I"d learned it from a four-hundred-year-old aether beast who also happened to be a jungle queen and my core.
"Well wherever you learned it, we"re rooting for you," Leyton said. "You"re the only one from our town, besides that idiot Jason, who made it into the top twelve."
We talked for a bit longer before I excused myself and headed home. In all honesty, I just wanted to spend the rest of the day relaxing and taking a break.
"Oh you can relax, after some training."
I held back a groan as Zirani"s voice sounded in my head. I should have guessed she would say that, not that she didn"t have a point. Tomorrow wouldn"t be as easy as today, and I needed that warp seed.
"Home? Or outside the town?"
"We can focus on techniques today," She replied. "I don"t have to hide from your aunt anymore so it will be easier."
I spent the rest of the day practicing my technique, though it wasn"t easy. Zirani had me trying to form them while she tried to distract me in various ways, one of which was dropping something then bending over to get it. My gaze would be drawn to her behind and my techniques would falter.
When my aunt came home, she found me sprawled on the floor, doing push-ups with Zirani on my back while I tried to form bark armor on my hands and feet.
"Well, that"s certainly one way to train," My aunt commented, "but make sure you wash up before dinner. You stink."
I nodded back, keeping my focus on my push-ups. It was hard work, but as I"d told Markem, it was what I"d done and would continue to do so.
After a few more push-ups Zirani finally let me stop, and I quickly headed upstairs to take a shower.
"You"re getting better," She said as warm water poured over my aching body.
"What do you think my chances are for tomorrow, I"m not too worried especially not after what happened today, but there have to be at least a few strong arcanists," I replied.
"I"m more worried about what will happen if we place higher than third," She said.
"We just ask for the third-place prize instead. They probably know it has some connection to the nature affinity so it won"t be too odd."
That had been something I"d been worried about as well since the idea of throwing a fight didn"t sit right with me, but I doubted whoever took third place who reject an offer to trade prizes. Hopefully, it was a steel heart disciple, that would make things easier.
I finished up cleaning quickly and headed back downstairs to have dinner with Aunty before I headed to bed to get an early night of sleep.. I trusted that both Zirani and my aunt could wake me up, but even so, I wanted to get a long night of sleep.
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