Ning and Sophie walked along the road in the sunset, the same as many other peoples that were returning from the arena did.

He tried to bring up some small talk with Sophie, but she really didn't care much. She simply answered the questions, without asking any of her own in return.

As they walked, she noticed his sword and finally got curious. "Didn't I help you get a sheath for that sword? What happened?" she asked.

"Hmm? It broke long ago, though," Ning said. "I actually made a Wind conduit for it before I joined the academy, but that broke too during the competition. Now I'm sheathless once again."

"Don't you want one? Tell your teachers or someone in the town. They should make it for you," Sophie said.

Ning thought for a moment and shook his head.

"No. I want to make it on my own this time around," he said. "I'll do so once I'm done with the competition. I have some idea of what type of essence I want to use."

"Okay… you do you," Sophie said.

They continued walking for a little longer before Ning saw a carriage that Sophie pointed at. "That's the one we came in," she said. Together, they walked up to the carriage and Sophie knocked on the door.

After waiting for a moment, the door opened and a short man with black hair walked out. He stepped to the side, allowing the two to walk in.

Ning looked at the man, not recognizing him at all. It was someone in the Paradise Hunters gang that he had never seen before.

It wasn't that weird as he had rarely ever met anyone while in that gang. He walked in and met with 3 other people inside, 1 woman and 2 men.

One man was sitting on one side of the carriage, while the remaining man and woman seemed to be a couple who were rather close to each other.

Ning quickly recognized the single man and greeted him. "Ah, good to meet you again, Kepli. How long has it been?" he asked.

He had only seen Kepli in the Grayfire city where he had met the gang for the first time. After that, when they were moved to the fort city, he hadn't met him again.

Ning got into the carriage and sat next to him before greeting the remaining people. He then turned toward Kepli. "You are a long way from home," he said. "What are you guys doing here?"

"A mission," Kepli said.

"What mission?" Ning asked.

Kepli didn't get angry. He just smiled. "We're here to check on your progress," he said.

"My progress?" Ning was surprised. "Haha, you had nothing to worry about. Sophie says you only came here today, but ask about anyone and they'll say I'm one of the most talented fighters in the competition. Well… if you ignore my age at least."

Kepli smiled. "Is that so?" he asked. He turned toward the couple in front of him and gestured for them to leave.

The couple smiled. "We'll go find someplace to stay for the time being," the man said and walked out. They took Sophie and the other man along with them, leaving Ning alone with Kepli.

"Oh, do you have something secret to talk about?" Ning asked. "Why did you send them out?"

Kepli chuckled a bit. "I told you, I'm here to check on your progress," he said. "Although, that's the lie we told those out there."

Ning frowned for a moment. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"Hmm," Kepli thought for a moment. "Let's start with how strong you've gotten for now. I see you're in the Essence Manifestation realm, which is quite surprising. I hadn't believed it when I read it in the letter, but it turns out to be true."

"Yes," Ning said. "And it's a pure core. I can create any type of Essence without worrying about the output being low."

Kepli gave a scornful look when he heard that. "Stop trying to make me jealous. I already am," he said.

Ning chuckled.

"So? What else did the academy teach you?" he asked. "How good is your Essence sense? Can you search for enemies easily?"

"Huh?" Ning was confused by the random question. What was the point of even asking that?

"It's… okay, I guess?" Ning said. "About as good a Low Essence Soul realm person's essence sense. Why do you ask?"

Kepli leaned in to whisper. "So what you're telling me is even with that, you can't sense her?" he asked.

Ning frowned for a moment before moving back and looking around the small carriage. He tried searching for any sort of essence he could find and scrutinized it a bit.

The only essence he could sense belonged to Kepli and a faint essence from someone close outside, but that was light essence so it couldn't be who he was looking for. He couldn't sense the shadow essence at all.

"Clara?" he called out. "Are you in here?"

He waited for an answer, but there was none.

He frowned, searching around the carriage and outside to see if someone was there. If it was Clara, she would have hidden herself with no one able to find her.

Even when he first met her, there had been 3 Essence Manifestation realm opponents, none of whom could notice her at all. Not only was her body completely invisible thanks to her Shadow Essence, but her Essence itself was also invisible to everyone's senses.

There was no way for Ning to see or sense her as he was right now. "Why are you not answering? Are you not here? Is she not here?" he asked Kepli.

"She is close by and she wants you to find her yourself," Kepli said. "Apparently you mentioned something to her in one of the letters about it."

"Huh?" Ning thought for a moment. His eyes wandered in thought before he realized something. "Oh! My defensive skill."

"Defensive skill?" Kepli was a little confused. "What about it?"

"Hehe! Just watch!"

Then, Ning started using his skill.