Chapter 322 Last Week
Piloq's marketplace was bustling with activity, showcasing a blend of traditional stalls selling handcrafted wares and exotic spices, as well as boutiques featuring modern technology and fashion. Vendors sold goods from woven baskets, Summoning Scrolls, and digital displays side by side.
The means of transportation at the edge of the city were a symphony of contrasts. Monster-drawn carriages shared the roads with hovering shuttles. The resounding sounds of the horses' hooves resonated alongside the soft humming of the shuttles all around them.
As Michael and the rest walked down the staircase of hell with thousands of steps to take, his attention was drawn to the parks and gardens that could be considered oases of time. Ancient sculptures shared space with contemporary art installations. Traditional pagodas provided shade next to innovative outdoor seating areas equipped with solar-powered charging stations.
Piloq's skyline danced between the past and the present. The silhouette included Aztec temples and clock towers as well as sleek, illuminated high-rises.
And then there were the citizens of Piloq, Berserkers, and Warlock Centaurs, moving through life with unique duality, dressed in a spectrum from flowing robes to modern suits, and even combat suits.
Despite the vast disparities between the eras the city was filled with harmony and comfort. The echoes of the past had fused with the pulse of the present, inviting its residents and visitors to experience a dynamic blend of cultures, aesthetics, and technologies that bridge the gap between ancient wisdom and structures, and the progress of the modern age.
It was a completely different world compared to the places Michael had been to during the last few months. It was exceptional.
But Michael's feeling of awe was yet to subside. In fact, it had just begun.
Once they reached the bottom of the staircase, Michael and the others encountered the first Berserkers and Warlock Centaurs.
They were armed to their teeth, almost like they were ready to wage war at any moment.
The Berserkers were a humanoid race with red skin and mostly crimson eyes. The smallest of them was 3 meters tall, and their wide build and bulging muscles made it seem like they were just as wide as they were tall. Of course, that was not exactly the case. They might have a broader physique, but they looked more like small Giants with bloodthirsty aura engulfing every inch of their body.
Some of the Berserkers possessed two pairs of arms. Some were bigger than others. And then there was a small batch of Berserkers that had a tail that looked like a flexible Morningstar.
They looked impressive as they stared down at the humans in front of them. Their presence was enough to command attention and discipline.
Meanwhile, the Warlock Centaurs standing next to the Berserkers weren't much different. Their presence was also imposing. However, their calmness was much more impressive.
Looking into their calm, deep eyes made Michael wonder if the Warlock Centaurs were calm lakes standing next to erupting volcanoes.
The Warlock Centaurs' appearance was similar to the description Michael read about them online. Their lower body was more or less that of a horse. On the other hand, their upper body was human-like. But that was not everything. There was a wide variety of Warlock Centaurs as well.
There were a few Warlock Centaurs with three eyes, others, who could shapeshift into a more human-like form, and others whose lower body looked more like that of a humongous bull.
It was an interesting sight for Michael, who had only seen pictures of their allies until now.
The Berserkers and Warlock Centaurs smashed their fists against their chest and said something that Michael didn't understand.
Alice and the other Professors said something in response. Afterward, some of the Berserkers and Warlock Centaurs turned around. They motioned the group to follow and walked into the city.
Meanwhile, the other Berserkers and Warlock Centaurs stayed behind. They looked at the middle section of the staircase and waited for the other groups to arrive.
Michael looked back as well, only to turn around the next moment as Kaleb nudged him from the side to follow the others.
While entering the city of Piloq, Michael's attention was drawn to the Ancient Structures. He wanted to enter some of them to study, but the Berserkers and Warlock Centaurs guiding them through the city were too fast for him to study anything. They moved them through the outskirts and led the group of human prodigies to a towering skyscraper.
"This place has been reserved for all humans. The Professors and Suns will be given the suits. The rest can figure it out on your own. Fight for a better room if you're dissatisfied," The Berserker standing in front of everyone said after the students of the Saphirelake Military Academy had entered the skyscraper.
It was a hotel and the place all humans would be staying for the next few weeks.
"Because there are nine human groups from different places, you might not know each other well. You can get to know each other today so that the procedures tomorrow will be smoother. There is a gym in the basement, a swimming pool, a gravitation room, and a few more places that can be used to train and spar," The Warlock Centaur standing next to the Berserker announced.
The Berserker then added, "I hope you guys are stronger than you look like. Otherwise, I might accidentally break your bones starting tomorrow."
A few students stared at the Berserker, feeling a little confused. One of them blurted out what the others thought, "You're a participant of the Battle Exchange!"
The Berserker was a Tier-3 Lord with an extremely thick bloodthirsty aura. Most human Lords at the 2nd Tier stared hesitatingly at the Berserker, unable to think of a way to defeat a powerhouse like him during the Battle Exchange.
Meanwhile, Kaleb, Lincoln, and Zeke looked at the Berserker with a trace of interest.
"I am, and I wish for grand battles with some of the true geniuses amid you. Most of you seem like puny ants. That's unfortunate," The Berserker commented with a straight face.
He wasn't even trying to provoke. It was just that he was genuinely disappointed at the sight of the students in front of him.
His gaze moved through the small batch of students. The Berserker's attention lingered on a few students longer than others, but they were mostly 4th grade students such as Kilian Zeus, and company.
After a while, his focus moved to the Professors, Alice Zenovia to be precise. He stared at her the longest, a tinge of excitement and battle spirit surfacing on his face. 𝙡𝓲𝙗𝙧𝓮𝒂𝒅.𝙘𝓸𝒎
"I would love to fight you." He announced, only diverting his attention when the Warlock Centaur pulled him aside.
"We'll be taking our leave now. The staff will handle everything else. They will also add your crystal watches to our network system to ensure that you'll be able to access the information you may need soon enough. We will also send more details about the Battle Exchange to your crystal watches. Rest well, and prepare for the Battle Exchange!" the Warlock Centaur said before turning away.
He pulled the Berserker alongside him and left the hotel without a backward glance.
"The Berserker wants to fight us even before the Battle Exchange starts, or am I misunderstanding something?" One of the 3rd-grade students asked in a low voice, yet he was loud enough for most students to hear given the stunned silence.
"At the end of the day, the Battle Exchange starts officially in a week. But we've come to Meku several days before the Battle Exchange begins, not just for show. There are reasons for that," Another student, Peter Gramm from Killian's group, said without further explaining.
The other students turned around to Alice and the other Professors, but they didn't receive an explanation. On the contrary, the Professors ignored their gazes pointed toward the reception and changed the topic.
"Register yourselves at the reception. Then, you can do whatever you want. Keep a close eye on your crystal watches, and don't spend too much time in the Origin Expanse for the next few days," Oliver Zeus instructed as he moved to the reception to register himself as well.
The students followed behind, while Alice remained on her spot. She glanced over to Kaleb and Michael, who were already back in their own world, chatting excitedly. They didn't seem worried about the reasons why they had to arrive in Meku a week before the Battle Exchange started. On the contrary, nothing in their behavior seemed to indicate that they worried about anything, not even after the Berserkers and Warlock Centaurs revealed some of their participants of the Battle Exchange.
Alice wasn't threatened by the Berserker's presence, but even she could feel the Berserker's pressure when his gaze moved to her. He intentionally provoked the students and focused on each of them for a moment to display the might of his presence and power. That was an attempt to clearly indicate that he would start breaking their bones starting tomorrow if their combat prowess wasn't up to his standards.
The higher-ups of the Berserkers and Warlock Centaurs always used a similar tactic to intimidate the 'fletchlings' of the human race. They called them fletchlings because they hadn't attained any achievements yet. The fletchlings had yet to earn the Berserkers' and Warlock Centaurs' respect – which was also one of the reasons the human participants of the Battle Exchange arrived a week before it started officially.
There were more reasons but the Professors wouldn't tell their students of that. It was necessary that their students learned about the situation on their own to adapt naturally.
But that didn't mean Alice was not worried.
She was restless, hoping that the week would pass smoothly.
That was all she hoped for.