Shin opened his eyes wide at Junius sudden confession. He had never heard of his elder brother wanting to enter the military until now. Granted Junius already had a government title by being a junior constable, but aiming to be an acclaimed general was an entirely different matter. The difference between a general of the Himmel Empire and a mere constable from a remote waypoint was like heaven and earth.
“That’s right! Shin, you’d probably won’t know, but in the empire, the ones with true power and authority aren’t the family clans like the Frie Clan or the numerous business moguls. The ones with true power are the Imperial Family and the government bodies that assist them. In fact, even the Emperor himself must keep his officials happy. Otherwise, he would run the risk of a revolt!”
Junius had been training in the constable headquarters for an extended period of time now and naturally, he had learnt many things about how the Himmel Empire works. Aldea, his mentor, had efficiently imparted her knowledge down on the youth and he had absorbed the information like a sponge.
“And the only way a commoner like me can reach the heights needed to protect our family is for me to join the military!”
As the two orphans stared at the night sky, littered with a vast array of dazzling stars, Junius eyes began to sparkle as he fantasised about his future.
“Junius… We can manage by ourselves…”
Worried that his elder brother had self-imposed a gigantic burden on himself, Shin tried to dissuade him from making any rash decisions. He was extremely familiar with Junius’ mentality. If it were for his family, he would push himself above his limits so that he could protect them. Shin witnessed it firsthand when Junius defended him against those thugs who wanted to claim his life back on Frie Mountain.
“Hahaha, I’m not just doing it for you guys. As a government official, being a general is something that I should strive for anyway!”
Shoving Shin’s worry off, Junius reassured the boy that he was doing it because he wanted to.
“And to your point on Gawil Jefferson…”
Clearing his throat, Junius stood up from the bamboo mat and leaned on the railings of the rooftop. His nose wrinkled as the corners of his mouth twitched once. Putting on a sombre face, he addressed black-haired boy:
“Shin, you’re weak.”
Taken aback by Junius sudden complaint, Shin’s body jerked backwards as his brows furrowed. He was unsure of why Junius was trying to demean him.
“Actually, we’re weak.”
Smiling wryly, Junius blankly gazed upwards.
“We are mere ants trying to live in a giant’s world. No matter how much we wallow in despair, how much we loathe the world, how much we think that the world is unfair, the feet of the giants will always trump us.”
At this point, Junius saw that Shin was shivering slightly. Be it due to to the freezing night breeze or the fear mounting up in his body, Shin was unable to find warmth under the moonlight. Taking off his jacket, Junius gently blanketed his younger brother.
“Imagine if you were the emperor of the Himmel Empire. If you heard how badly Gawil Jefferson was being badmouthed out in the streets, what could you do? As the emperor, you could send down a decree stating that Gawil Jefferson will become a national hero for his bravery, forcing all of the bad gossips to stop.”
Shin’s cloudy eyes started to clear up as he heard Junius’ logic.
“Furthermore, you don’t need to be an emperor to help clear Gawil Jefferson’s name. Let’s say if you were a military general. With your position, you could make him a martyr, wiping away the helplessness that you are feeling now.”
Stroking Shin’s hair, Junius’ face convulsed as if he had swallowed a bitter pill. The advice that he was giving to Shin, wasn’t it more applicable to himself?
“Only with authority, can someone do all of this things. Right now, we are just small fishes in the pond; but I believe that one day, with hard work and determination, we can become dragons that no one can ignore.”
Shin had finally understood the message that his elder brother is trying to convey to him. In his current state, Shin is unable to do anything with the powerlessness that he felt. He wanted to clear Gawil Jefferson’s name but lacked the means to do so. However, if he lacked the ability, why doesn’t he find a way to obtain it?
“Haha, looks like I really did cheer you up!”
Seeing the black-haired boy’s face suddenly brighten up, Junius lightly laughed as he lay down on the bamboo mat. He had been at the constable’s headquarters for nearly the entire day. Feeling the need to rest his fatigued body, Junius relaxed his tense muscles while gazing into the blanket of stars high above.
“Yeah… Thank you for that…”
Pulling off Junius’ jacket from his shoulders, Shin returned the piece of clothing to his elder brother, who was lying down like a lazy turtle. Beaming at Shin’s thoughtfulness, Junius used his two hands to support his head as he said:
“So, Shin. What’s your dream?”
Junius, who was basking in the glow of the luminescent moonlight, threw a casual question Shin’s way, not knowing that his mindless words had actually brewed a small storm in his younger brother’s mind.
‘What IS my dream?’
It was a line of thought that had never crossed Shin’s mind before. He had always followed where the flow led him. Wherever the First Elder or the Instructor led, he followed. From leaving Frie Mountain, the place where he grew up in, to entering the tutelage of Lady Seph, none of these decisions were something that he himself wanted. Now that Junius had brought it up, Shin felt his subconscious fall into a frenzy.
“Hmmm? Shin, why have you gone qui…”
Before Junius finish his sentence, the youth heard a crackling sound coming from the roof exit. Turning his head over his shoulder, he saw the closed metal door slowly creak open as a petite figure walked up the building. Seeing that the roof was occupied, the little girl quivered slightly. Evidently, she had expected the roof to be empty at this time.
Tilting his head in confusion, Junius said the name of the newcomer without thinking, drawing the attention of the perturbed boy sitting next to him. Adjusting his posture, Shin similarly turned round to look at his childhood friend.
Wearing a pearly white nightgown, Ariel’s luscious scarlet hair flowed down to her waist like a waterfall. Since she was preparing for bed, the little girl did not wear the typical hairpins that she always had on her. Her rosy cheeks that make her look inebriated and damp hair indicated that Ariel had just come out from the shower as a sweet fragrance filled the once stale air of the rooftop.
Ever since that fateful day when Shin and Ariel had confronted Gawil Jefferson, the little girl had seemed to return home in a stupor that she could not wake up from. The First Elder was worried that the battle with Gawil had actually impaired her mental functions and desperately begged Lady Seph to heal his precious granddaughter, even though Ariel herself said that there was nothing wrong with her.
Nevertheless, there was something that was definitely bothering Ariel, but she would not open up about it, much to the dismay of her grandfather.
Putting her hands behind her back, Ariel hung her head down. With short glances, the usually headstrong little girl, peeked at Shin, unsure of whether she should approach or not.
Noticing her hesitation, Junius flashed a mischievous grin as he spoke out loud:
“Ahhhh! *Yawn!* I’m getting tired… Shin, I’ll be heading back first! I’ll talk to you tomorrow!”
Getting up from his comfortable position, Junius stretched his body as he wore his jacket. With his back turned to Ariel, the playful youth gave Shin an impish wink and headed straight for the roof exit. Tapping the milky, smooth shoulders of Ariel, Junius gave her a thumbs up as he disappeared down the stairs.
Shin was slow to understand his elder brother’s actions, but Ariel knew precisely what Junius was thinking about. As they say, girls develop faster than boys. Biting her lip and stamping her foot, the adorable little creature blushed furiously as she thought of Junius’ misunderstanding.
“No, it’s nothing!”
Unsure of why his training partner was behaving that way, Shin cautiously called her out. However, his actions only served to aggravate her as she stormed her way from the metal door to the bamboo mat where Shin was sitting. Slightly moving her head, Ariel gestured for the young boy to vacate some space so that she could comfortably sit.
Snugly resting her bottom on the bamboo mat, Ariel took in a large breath to help ease her tensed muscles and quell her beating heart. Shin gingerly glanced over the little girl, who was only dressed in a nightgown, not knowing where to look. Her creamy white legs below her knees were on full display as the spaghetti strap of her dress wholly presented her perfect collarbone. For a Spirit User that focused on pure power, it was strange to see her glossy arms, silky as can be. Perhaps she had a healthy amount of fat that was covering her muscles, Shin wondered. Since she had just got out of the shower, Ariel seemed to be radiating heat making her skin look as tender as a lamb.
“You’re here to see the stars?”
Trying to ward his mind off of Ariel’s body, Shin asked the girl.
“Yeah… What were you and brother Junius talking about just now?”
The freckles on her cheeks twitched as she spoke.
“Our dreams for the future… I guess..”
As she heard the topic that Shin and Junius were talking about earlier, Ariel quivered a little. She tried to mouth a reply, but something in her subconscious held her back. Creasing her face, Ariel suffered from an internal struggle. She was unsure if she genuinely wanted to share her worries with Shin.
“I think I should leave… Take your time stargazing… Just return the mat to me when you’re done…”
Seeing that Ariel was somewhat apprehensive to share her woes, Shin decided that it was best to retreat and give her some time alone.
Just before Shin managed to stand up, he felt a smooth hand grasping his wrists, preventing him from proceeding any further.
“Shin… Do you know about the legend of the Eternal Burning Tree?”