Eichemalar sparkled with bright light even after nightfall.
In the Office of Special Affairs’ first interrogation bureau, a dwarf only half as tall as a normal adult was fastened on a bed, seven dark-green metallic threads piercing were the seven arcane gates were located inside him.
Only, this bed was entirely cast from metal. It was impossible to lie comfortably on it.
The dwarf’s eyes were open, but his gaze seemed to drift vacant like those of a sleepwalker. Five arcane masters were gathered around him.
Liszt, Donna, Songat, the arcane master wearing a white wooden mask, as well as a woman clothed in a white robe, both her hair and her eyes white as snow.
These five were arcane masters standing at the very top of the kingdom.
And not far away from the interrogation bureau, inside a black building shaped like a lighthouse, three aged arcane masters were anxiously waiting for the results of the interrogation.
These three old arcane masters were judges from the Office, men with the authority to decide the most secret and most important operations inside the kingdom.
“What’s your name? What do you usually do in Eichemalar?” Songat asked the dwarf on the iron bed, his voice peaceful.
“I’m called Pyro, manager of Charles’ Underground Wine Cellar,” the dwarf said in a monotonous voice.
“What’s your relation with Diaz?” Songat asked.
“I am his most loyal and devoted servant,” the dwarf said.
Songat looked at the white-eyed and white-robed woman. He nodded, his face cold and grave, entirely at odds with the expression he usually wore.
The white-robed woman nodded back.
She stretched out her hands. When the brilliance of arcane particles started shining, countless tiny white strands of light flowed out of her ten fingers and stabbed into the dwarf’s eyes.
The dwarf’s eyes suddenly became a mottled sea of light. Countless stars shone inside them in gorgeous colors like a cluster of countless miniature tableaux.
The white-robed woman suddenly seemed under a great strain.
Countless mottled starry lights appeared in her eyes at the same time. Her hands kept moving, never stopping for a second, guiding these tiny white threads of light as they sought the things she and Liszt and the others were looking for.
The strands of light suddenly turned transparent in her hands after a few seconds. Like the flame of a candle, a bright light erupted from the dwarf’s eyes.
Shining pictures started forming above the dwarf.
“Is that the Evil Dragon disciples’ main camp? The Valley of Fallen Shadows!”
Liszt and Donna and the others suddenly beamed in delight.
In one of the pictures, they saw a huge mountain valley pervaded by a chaotic and twisted atmosphere. A purple aura of death oozed from the depths of the valley.
But the very next second, Liszt and Donna and the others suddenly froze.
“Evil Dragon disciples have actually developed to this degree?!”
From several other pictures, they saw thousands upon thousands of tents made from beast skins and bones erected in the depths of the shadowy mountain valley.
Alleys snaked between the innumerable tents, leading to many caves. Inside these caves sat purple altars of death.
Countless mind-warped berserkers holding giant axes patrolled the vast mountain forests surrounding the valley, together with Dragon Disciple crossbowmen. From many other pictures, they could see Dragon Disciple arcane teams clothed in deep purple with golden border stripes.
The white-robed woman cried out softly all of a sudden. All the white strands of light instantly crumbled in her hands, together with the sound of shattering metal.
The veins on her forehead bulged visibly. Shock and pain were written on her peculiar features.
The pictures floating above the dwarf scattered in fragments of light before quickly fading away.
Liszt narrowed his eyes and quietly asked, “Sullie, what did you see?”
“Blood Gate Altar… In the deepest reaches of the valley… It seems they think they can resurrect the Evil Dragon Ned, or maybe recreate his bloodline,” this white-eyed woman said, her quick words almost delirious. “The Valley of Fallen Shadows is inside the Southam Demon Forest, at the tip of the Cherry River!”
“The Valley of Fallen Shadows is in the Southam Demon Forest, at the tip of the Cherry River! This is consistent with all the clues we found so far!”
Inside the lighthouse-like building in the Office of Special Affairs, the three aged arcane masters’ hands shook in spite of themselves when they received the results from Liszt’s interrogation. “After so many years… We finally found them!”
“Who could have imagined that Three-Headed Dragon Academy would lose to Seagale Academy?”
“What’s so incredible about that? One finished seventh last year, the other finished ninth, there’s nothing surprising about either winning or losing. If you want to talk about something hard to imagine, then it has to be Holy Dawn Academy making it to the last eight. Also, it’s hard to imagine Golden Stag Academy being so strong this year. Everyone thought Hawkmoon Academy was roughly on the same level, but they ended up being defeated so easily.”
“It looks like the title this year belongs to either Dragon Breath Academy or Golden Stag Academy.”
“It’s too early to tell, we haven’t seen the best from Abel Academy and River Bend Academy yet. And who knows, maybe Holy Dawn Academy will surprise us with another miracle.”
“Holy Dawn is really the weirdest team. Every one of them is super strange. Plus, all the other teams want to avoid Golden Stag, but instead of that, Holy Dawn seems really eager to run into them.”
“According to the rules of the tournaments, the teams from the upper groups will fight against the teams from the lower groups and vice versa, so there’s one chance in four they’ll be matched against Golden Stag.”
“I wonder what’s going to happen if those two teams run into each other.”
Early in the morning, people chatted among themselves in groups of twos and threes while making their way to the Arena of Fire and Blood.
All the top eight teams of the national tournament had now been decided after the two matches the previous day.
On the upper side, Dragon Breath Academy from group one, Abel Academy from group two, Holy Dawn Academy from group three, and River Bend Academy from group four.
On the lower side, Golden Stag Academy from group one, Winterfell Academy from group two, Seagale Academy from group three, and Deepwood Motte Academy from group four.
According to the schedule, the ties for the last eight would be decided today in a public draw.
The stands suddenly erupted in warm shouts and cheers when Team Holy Dawn appeared in the area reserved for the participant teams.
“We’re actually the second team here, looks like we came early.”
Ayrin and the others noticed there was only a single team who’d arrived before them. None of the others were anywhere in sight.
“Is that Winterfell Academy?”
“It’s not that cold, so why are they dressed like that?”
“Haha, that guy looks about the same age as Moss, but he has a full beard, it’s really funny.”
Ayrin and the others couldn’t stop themselves from secretly laughing when they saw the other team.
Known as the strongest academy in the north of the kingdom, Team Winterfell’s members were all dressed in thick leather parkas with a big collar made from fox fur. There were even tassels on the parka’s cuffs and borders, making them seem scruffy and bloated.
All the members of that team looked wild and rough. Some had scraggy and uneven hair that seemed to have been casually trimmed with a knife, while some had hair casually tied with a grass rope. And what Ayrin found the funniest was, one of them had a very young and immature face, yet had a huge full beard eating his face.
“Ah? They’re headed our way…”
That Winterfell student with the young and bearded face reached them with several others in tow just when Ayrin was secretly laughing.
“Hello. I’m Rekai, the captain of Team Winterfell. The teams from St. Lauren both did great. You’re real warriors, all of us admire you guys very much.” The Winterfell captain with his immature face and full beard was very straightforward as he took the initiative to talk to Chris and Ayrin and the others.
“So you’re Rekai, the one they call the Wild King of the North?” Ayrin stared at him.
Stingham looked at Ayrin and quietly mumbled to himself with a snicker, “You folks are really good guys. How about we become friends?”
“Rekai, you folks are really good guys. How about we become friends?” What made Stingham roll his eyes was, the excited Ayrin really said the same thing.
Rekai and the others hadn’t expected Ayrin to be so straightforward. They suddenly blinked.
Ayrin couldn’t help himself and started laughing out loud while looking at Rekai. “Haha, it’s really funny. Just now we thought your school uniform looked a little comical, like you guys were afraid of the cold. Also, I couldn’t stop myself from secretly laughing when I saw your beard. I can’t help it, I can’t stop laughing every time I see your young-looking face with such a big beard.”
“This guy, how can he talk like that? Is he itching for a fight, so he’s provoking them on purpose?” Stingham was suddenly a little speechless.
“How candid!” What no one expected was, Rekai and company didn’t seem angry at all. Their eyes shone instead. “Alright! We’re friends now! I most like frank and outspoken friends. Before, we thought that people from the south were mostly petty-minded like little girls, but you’re even more candid than many of us in the north.”
“Dragon Breath arrived too.”
Cheers came again from the stands just when Stingham was feeling speechless. Team Dragon Breath had already made their way inside the rest area.
“Ayrin,” Audrey called from far away. She came their way together with Morgan and the others.
“Morgan, if we run into you guys this time, I’m really keen to have a fair duel with you one versus one!” Rekai immediately shouted, his eagerness to fight written all over his face when he turned around.
“Alright then.” The tall Morgan scratched his head, a little embarrassed, and offered a friendly smile. “If we really run into each other, then how about both of us fight in first position so we can have a fair duel?”
Rekai hammered his chest. “I swear upon my honor as a man!”
“Haha. Morgan, you’re a good guy. Let’s be friends!” What made Stingham almost fall to the ground was, Ayrin immediately repeated the same thing.