༺ The First Letter (75) ༻
The darkness of the night had fallen, but the last vestiges of light and heat continued to linger on the ground.
It was as if countless stars had descended from the sky as the heat of civilization warmed the earth.
The light of nature was forced to relinquish its place on the earth for today. Only the moonlight remained, alone amongst the lights of civilization.
It was a sign that the hunt had ended. By this point, a crowd of onlookers had gathered in front of the forest south of the Academy.
The most exciting event of the festival was about to begin.
Despite the festival lasting for two days, the only planned event for tomorrow was the evening party in light of the participants’ hunt achievements. Nevertheless, the indisputable highlight of the hunting festival was tonight’s awards ceremony.
It was a time when the crowds scattered all throughout the academy converged in one place. Even the students running the food stalls closed and gathered as the ceremony neared.
That was the significance of reigning victorious in the hunt. You were recognized as the best in the academy and became the most sought-after student.
Around this time, rumors regarding who the winner would be began to spread.
There were hundreds of onlookers camped out and waiting in front of the forest. Rumors of the prey caught by the hunting groups spread through their mouths.
A fourth-year had supposedly slain a high-rank beast, while someone in their third year had killed dozens of intermediate-rank beasts.
The Academy was a place where talent was brought from all over the continent. Even if they didn’t measure the beasts’ grades, the eyes of the students were as capable as most hunters.
Therefore, information about the hunters, which should have been only rumors, was actually fairly reliable with only slight deviations. Despite this, students of the Academy flocked towards the awards ceremony like ants drawn to the smell of sugar.
Hearing was not the same as seeing, and every now and then, when an unbelievable rumor was passed around, people set out to verify its authenticity. Today’s massive crowd was the result of these combined factors.
As the students gathered, they looked around, hoping to recognize familiar faces.
It came as no surprise that the podium was already lined with Academy celebrities.
“Look! It’s the imperial princess, the head of the first-year magic department!”
“Hey, watch your mouth. You can’t just call out a royal like that.”
“Who cares? It’s the Academy. The Saintess and the Queen of the Ball are here too…….”
The crowd whispered the names of the notable attendees. It was an event that most students at the Academy attended.
Those of noble birth, skills, or exemplary looks were no exception. Some of those sitting in the audience were also among the favorites to win the Hunting Festival the following year.
The bustling venue fell silent as an elderly mage walked past.
The old mage had bushy white hair, possessing an impressive beard that fell to his waist. His name was Delemore, a longtime professor of the Academy and the current president.
As one of the few 7th circle mages on the continent, he was considered to be on the verge of becoming a master.
It was unknown whether he would be able to break through the wall to becoming a master that had frustrated many past geniuses, but even the possibility of doing so was enough to be revered.
It meant that, aside from the three Masters, there was no one capable of overpowering him.
However, as lofty as he was, his body bore signs of many years. He had deliberately allowed his body to age per his beliefs as a mage in search of the ‘truth’.
At first glance, he appeared to be nothing more than an inconspicuous, gentle old man.
However, his presence was overwhelming, silencing thousands with just his footsteps.
Everyone was aware—That this hillbilly-looking wizard was a monster capable of single-handedly wiping out a village from the face of the earth if he so chose to.
The makeshift podium in the venue stood high, and as he stood before it, President Delemore silently scanned the area.
He spoke, his vibrant voice echoing through the air.
“……Respected members of the Academy!”
Through magic, his voice became overwhelmingly powerful. While it was still the voice of an old man, its volume was enough to penetrate the eardrums of thousands of people.
Everyone’s attention focused on the president as they realized that the long-awaited moment had arrived.
“First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for their interest in the hunting festival this year as well. We had over 500 students participate in this year’s hunt, and just like every year, they exceeded our expectations. Although there were a few unfortunate incidents…….”
President Delemore didn’t specify what the “unfortunate incidents” were, but the students in front of the podium had already heard about them.
The mouths of the silent students began to stir. Although they weren’t excessively loud, the whispers traveled far.
“I heard that Senior Delphine…….”
“They say she was rescued by the Hatchet Lord, but her wounds looked like they were caused by a hatchet.”
“T-that’s scary. He’s a noble, how can he be so barbaric?”
“Hmph, it’s because he’s a lower noble. Senior Delphine must have been cowardly ambushed. Can you imagine the noble Yurdina being defeated by a lower noble?”
“A-apparently, all four of them had hatchet wounds…Even if they were ambushed, the Hatchet Lord wouldn’t have been able to overpower the four of them at once.”
Of course, the validity of the rumor was unknown. With so many different opinions, some testimonies were sure to be exaggerated or dismissed before the rumors eventually died down.
There was no way the Yurdina family would allow such a disgraceful rumor to persist, especially if it concerned their heir. Regardless of the truth, today’s events were meant to be kept only among those who already knew about them.
The students were aware that the rumor would soon be silenced, so they enjoyed their brief freedom with even more enthusiasm and chatter.
It was only at the end of President Delemore’s speech, which could be said to be both short and long, that the students fell silent.
“……And now, I would like to announce the winners of this year’s Hunting Festival!”
Those words acted as the signal. Thousands of eyes turned to the podium in unison, and as President Delemore announced each winner, thunderous applause and cheers erupted.
The third and second-place finishers were called first, followed by special recognitions for the smallest and largest kills.
The dignitaries in the VIP seats watched silently as the students made their way to the podium. Their piercing gazes focused on every student that was called.
The process of handing out awards, announcing honorable mentions, and giving acceptance speeches continued.
It was now well into the night, but the crowd continued to gather in front of the podium. The most important announcement had still to be made.
After a while, it was finally time to announce the winner of the Hunting Festival, one of the Academy’s largest events.
With trembling hands, President Delemore adjusted his monocle, and his voice grew solemn.
“Even after decades of teaching, I still enjoy observing students.”
“Because those same students always exceed my expectations.”
The President snapped his fingers and released a powerful surge of magical power, and soon, the beast’s corpse hidden behind the stage was revealed.
Several first-year students screamed at the sight of the floating corpse as they were not yet accustomed to seeing demonic beasts, much less one as terrifying as this.
It resembled a tree or a building more than an animal. It was difficult to capture the full length of the beast in a single view.
Unlike some of the freshmen who covered their eyes with their hands, the sophomores and other older students remained relatively calm, but there was still an unmistakable look of horror in their eyes.
The beast had long since lost its life, but its corpse was enough to tell that it was at least a high-rank beast, maybe even a named-class.
The rumors were true. Realizing this, several people began to whisper, but the winners hadn’t even appeared yet.
“This year’s hunt was fraught with danger. Unbeknownst to us, a great evil was lurking in the woods, and many people were killed and injured. For this, I deeply apologize.”
President Delemore then bent at the waist and conveyed his apology as the whispers grew more widespread.
There was an uproar of fear and curiosity. Fear at the prospect of mass bloodshed and curiosity as to who had hunted down the fearsome beast.
The answer was soon revealed as President Delemore’s grave voice rang through the clearing once more.
“However, thanks to the courageous students who risked their lives, that evil has been eliminated, and I take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to them. I will now call their names.”
Everyone held their breath. Many had seen them, but the overwhelming size of the corpse raised doubt in their minds.
Was there even a student capable of hunting this monster?
“Firstly, Elsie Rinella, fourth-year student of the Magic Department!”
In a flash, a petite girl with a smug face burst onto the stage, her hands on her hips as she wore an oversized hat. She stood proudly.
However, the cheers didn’t come. The crowd held their breath, waiting for the next protagonist.
“Next, Seria Yurdina, second-year student of the Knight Division!”
A girl with gray hair walked slowly onto the stage while emitting a chilling vibe. She had a look of indifference on her face, but none of the audience knew that it was actually a look of nervousness.
Instead, they paid attention to something else.
She had accomplished Yurdina’s tradition that Delphine Yurdina had failed to accomplish.
A slight commotion broke out among the onlookers, but before it could spread, the next name came.
“Celine Haster, also a second year in the Knight Division!”
A shout of congratulations erupted from the crowd as if they were finally releasing the cheers they had been holding in.
Leading the cheers was a second-year swordsmanship student, and the cheers of Celine’s many lower noblewomen friends were especially loud and boisterous.
The dark-haired girl with hazel eyes shyly scratched her cheek before waving her hands while slightly averting her gaze, causing the cheers to erupt to a greater degree.
But even that didn’t last long.
At that solemn declaration, the crowd fell silent and their eyes fixed on the podium with a mixture of anticipation and fear.
It was no secret that the next name was the true hero of this year’s hunt. While the glory of being the champions would be shared equally amongst the team members, the value of the “leader” could not be dismissed.
On top of that, he was also the most prominent figure in the Academy as of late. According to the rumors, he was the one who played the biggest part in hunting the terrifying beast.
He was the one who beat down ‘Yurdina’s Bastard’.
Then, he went on to single-handedly slay ten demonic beasts including high-rank beasts, and even defeated the infamous Thean of the Southern Kingdoms with a single swing of his hatchet.
There was also the rumor that he had battled Delphine Yurdina, the top student of the fourth-year Knight Division, in her room and that he had even beaten her today.
It had been a stormy month. His accomplishments in the past thirty days outshone the significance of the rest of his time at the Academy.
He slowly made his way onto the stage.
Black hair soaked in blood, golden eyes that never lost their light in the darkness.
His uniform was soiled in blood—blood whose owners were unknown. It was clear from his bandaged arm that his condition was far from fine.
He was in a state that would have been normal to be immediately treated by a high-rank priest. However, his injuries proved the arduous battle he had fought and his tattered, blood-stained clothes were a clear indication of his life-and-death struggle.
“Ian Percus, third-year of the …… Knight Division!”
The dignitaries stared deeply at the protagonist of the festival. A few gazes stood out among the silent crowd.
The ‘Saintess’, the ‘Queen of the Ball’, and the ‘Crown Princess’, the first-year representative of the Magic Department.
But not even those prominent women captured the attention of the people.
Tonight, there was only one—a single shining star.
The bloodied man standing on the stage.
Countless eyes gathered on the lone man.
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