The black masks were a mysterious organisation that had emerged recently. Other than becoming active over the past few years, not much is known about the organisation. No one knows who founded the black masks or the total number of members it had. Primarily involved in crime, the association had their hands in an array of felonies from large-scale assassinations to simple robberies. Unlike traditional crime syndicates, the black masks target the establishment explicitly as if it were trying to wreak as much havoc as they could. Stirring up conflict was their forte, and because of that, they had attracted a wide variety of talent. Rogue cultivators who had been banished from their clans and government agents unhappy with how they were treated all found refuge within the quarters of the organisation.
Of course, not everyone who knocks on the door would get an invitation. One must at least reach the level of a Rank 30 Spirit Adept before they could don the infamous mask. If they were not strong enough, they could still join the organisation but would not be given rank or title and could only serve as slave labourers. For instance, the hundreds of bandits that attacked the convoy were technically part of the black masks, but they were disposable to the syndicate. However, the current adversary the Instructor was facing, was not.
It was rumoured the mask was a tool to boost spiritual power and whoever wears it, would be able to take on a Spirit User much stronger than themselves. And currently, the black mask standing in front of the Instructor was able to effortlessly stop the massive club that could clobber anything that stood in its path.
Lifting his Spirit up once more, the Instructor increased the supply of spiritual energy to his club and slammed down the bludgeon, aiming straight at the black mask’s head. This time, the blue-clothed man decided to avoid the humongous club by somersaulting away. Missing his target, the Instructor’s weapon crashed into the ground and formed a burning crater.
Now that the assailant wasn’t under him, the Instructor could take a good look at his foe. Standing 1.8 metres tall, the man’s solid lean body was hidden by his plain and tight blue robes. Wearing covered shoes and thick gloves, there was no exposed skin that the Instructor could use to deduce his origins. The only clue was the viridian coloured hair flowing out from his head. And finally, the distinct and notorious mask. Covering his entire face, the eyeholes were the only two exposed holes, and even then, a wire mesh that concealed the iris made it impossible for the Instructor to see his enemy’s eye colour.
Usually, a standard black mask would have no designs, but on the forehead of his enemy, there was a golden crescent moon pattern. Amongst the members of the black masks, a hierarchy existed. Intelligence reports state that the syndicate separated themselves into five levels. The lowest level was called the Dalits. Members at this level could only serve as cleaners or manual workers of the organisation. The numerous bandits that surrounded they convoy were at this level.
The next level was called the Shudras. Members at this level were given the coveted mask that was recognisable anywhere in the empire. Shudras must at least cultivate to the Rank 30 Spirit Adept realm before they even got a chance to receive the mask. The obsidian masks that they were given had no designs or patterns. However, it invoked absolute fear to anyone who saw it. Being the most abundant and active, the majority of infamous stories of the syndicate were caused by the Shudras who terrorised the population.
A level above the Shudras were the Vaishyas. Vaishyas were the rank equivalent to captain in the black masks syndicate. Usually commanding a cell of Shuras, they had to be at least in the Rank 40 Spirit Spectre realm. A Vaishya could be identified by the green snake embroidered on their masks.
At a level higher, there was the Kshatriya. When a black mask reached this level, they would be considered part of the inner circle in the organisation. Often commanding over a hundred Shudras, the Kshatriyas rarely made an appearance, making them hard to locate and detain. Their masks had a golden crescent moon pattern that illuminated in the dark. To even be considered for this level, the members of the syndicate had to at the very least, be in the Rank 50 Spirit Lord realm.
The final known level of the black masks were the Brahmins. No one knows what gorgeous and intricate patterns were sewn on their masks as none of them had never made a public appearance. Going by the sequence, intelligence agencies assume that to reach this level, one has to at least be in the Rank 60 Spirit King realm. And that were the only five levels intelligence reports identified. It was unclear if there was a higher level and who the leader of this entire organisation was.
Dalits, Shudras, Vaishyas, Kshatriya and Brahmin. These were the five known levels of the black masks. And currently, the Instructor was facing a Kshatriya, one of the big shots.
“To think a Kshatriya would personally come for a bandit raid. What’s the special occasion huh? You ran out of business and want to steal your subordinates job?”
The Instructor relaxed his body as he sneeringly addressed the black mask standing in front of him. It was rare to even see a Vaishya let alone a Kshatriya participate in a mission.
The black mask remained silent and unmoving to the Instructor’s ridicule. Although his expression was hidden under the mask, the Instructor had a gut feeling his words had infuriated the Kshatriya.
“What’s the matter? Has the cat got your tongue? Can’t even say a single word?”
Continually provoking the Kshatriya, the Instructor hoped to at least hear the assailants voice.
Instead of a verbal reply, the Kshatriya raised his right hand upwards. As if waiting for that action, five shadowy figures emerged from the shrubbery and meandered forward. They were another five core members of the black masks. Astonishingly, each one of them had a green snake pattern sewn onto their masks.
With the Spirits summoned, the Instructor focused his attention on the woman who wielded a teal-coloured bow Spirit. Evidently, she was the one who shot the poison arrow at him.
“Wow, one Kshatriya and five Vaishyas… I guess you guys are really determined huh?”
Although the Instructor remained composed and unfazed on the outside, inwardly he was cursing.
‘The hell?! So many high-level black masks? Something fishy is going on…’
The current line-up of the black masks was sufficient to take down a regular family clan of the Himmel empire. But they were, at present, targeting a mere trading caravan. Granted, they were using aether cars as transport, but most of the time, the Frie Clan flag were enough to deter potential criminals from targeting their cargo.
‘Did the Second Elder hire them? Impossible, he would never risk an entire trading convoy filled with aether cars for the sake of killing Shin…’
The suspicion that the Second Elder bought the services of the black masks quickly flew through the Instructor’s mind, but he quickly dismissed it. The Second Elder was in charge of finances and trade. Thus, he knew how precious aether cars were. If the clan lost ten aether cars at once, its ledger books would be in the red.
‘If it’s not the Second Elder, why would so many high-level members of the black masks target this convoy?’
Throwing out the only probable theory, the Instructor was clueless at why they were being targeted. At this moment, the Instructor saw a brown coloured flash zoom past him. Smashing her heels on the grass floor, Ines slowed her momentum till she was a metre in front of the Instructor. Already in her spiritual body enhancement form, the brunette middle-aged woman was prepared to do battle.
“Lou, what’s going on? One Kshatriya and five Vaishyas… Why are so many big-shots here?”
Being a Rank 54 Spirit Lord, Ines had her fair share of black masks knowledge. With one look, she was able to deduce that the situation had turned precarious and immediately darted to assist her partner.
“I don’t know… But we are outnumbered, escaping should be our focus. Once we are near Chilyoja Waypoint, they will stop chasing us.”
The muscular man whispered in a voice that was only audible to Ines. Initially, the Instructor was not fazed when facing over a hundred bandits with thirty men. In fact, he was still confident if everyone gave their all, they would be able to beat down every single enemy present. But the assignment at hand was first and foremost an escort mission. Bringing Shin and Junius to safety was the utmost priority.
“I agree… Facing six high-ranking members of the black masks and over a hundred bandits will be no simple task though…”
“We can try… Send ten escorts to drive the aether cars away. The remainder of us will travel alongside the convoy while holding back the black masks!”
The Instructor barked his orders at Ines.
With a giant leap, Ines retreated back to the other members of the clan to relay the Instructor’s command to their subordinates. Once he saw that the caravan had begun to move, he raised his humongous club and pointed it straight at the six adversaries that were staring him down.
“Come at me, you bitches…”