Book 3: Aldrich’s Keep || Chapter 27: Awter Lake (2)

Donned in full ebony black robes and their faces entirely covered with the mysterious masks that defined their organisation, the ten figures quietly stood there and stared at the young teenager, whose mind was going into overdrive, desperate to find a possible means of escaping. Junius had a bitter encounter with the syndicate earlier on when they attacked the Frie Clan caravan three years back. If not for the Instructor and Ines fighting them off, Shin and Junius might not have lived to breathe this day.

‘I need to find a way to escape.’

Surprisingly, after surrounding the youth, the Black Masks did nothing, giving Junius ample time to plan his next course of action. Taking a brief glance at the run-down building, Junius shook his head as he thought:

‘Although I really want to investigate further, getting out of here is more important!’

With his Azure Water Blade in hand, Junius gathered his mana quickly into his legs as he used a body enhancement technique. In a fraction of a second, his figure turned blurry to the assailants as he spun around and bolted straight for the forest. The Black Masks had encircled him, and thus, he had to choose what he thought was the weakest individual to break through the blockade. Unfortunately, his choice utterly backfired against him.

The slim and petite Black Mask that he had chosen turned out to be the agilest of all the assailants. Quickly tracking Junius with her eyes, she too disappeared from Junius’ sights, and in the next instance, her sharp nails were already firmly clawed into the flesh of the young teen’s abdomen.

“AARRGHH!!!”

Screaming out in agonising pain, Junius lost control of his body falling flat onto the floor. Among all of those in the syndicate who were worthy to claim the Black Masks for themselves, they had to be at least in the Rank 30 Spirit Adept realm. With Junius only being a Rank 15 Spirit Apostle, there was no way that he could fight head-to-head with any of them. As if toying with the youth, the slender Black Mask that attacked Junius, playfully kicked the teen as he spasmed on the rocky shores of the lake.

Taking advantage of the Black Mask underestimating him, Junius gathered a significant amount of mana on the Azure Water Blade, making it shine in a bright luminescent light that blinded both him and his assailant.

“PIERCE!!!”

Elongating his Spirit, Junius hoped to severely injure the woman who was just centimetres away from him, but his efforts were useless. Expecting the attack, the Black Mask easily evaded the strike with a spin and in one motion, directed her feet to the young teens face. Kicking Junius head-on, the viridian-haired youth flew a few metres back into the centre of the encirclement.

Feeling his head spin, Junius tasted the bitter flavour of iron in his mouth. Bringing his hands to his lips, a velvety red substance began to profusely flow out from the insides of his jaw staining his palms and ultimately, dripping onto the shore.

‘DAMN IT!!!’

There was no way out. His surprise escape didn’t work. Being a constable, Junius naturally knew about the Black Masks syndicate. The assailants consisted of a mixture of Shudras and Vaishyas which were all in the Spirit Adept and Spirit Spectre realm. As a Spirit Apostle, Junius didn’t stand a chance against these enemies especially since they had already locked on onto his body. His surprise move against the seemingly feeble Black Masks was his best way out, but that failed splendidly.

Once again, the Black Masks just stood there, as if waiting for Junius to make his next move. By now, Junius was tired and desperate. Grasping for straws, he spun around once with his Azure Water Blade, forming a ring of water around him. The sharpness of his sword was transferred into the gushing torrents inside of the ring as it started to emit a radiant light.

“EXPAND!!!”

Shouting out at the top of his lungs, the water ring viciously targetted the many Black Masks surrounding the youth as if thirsting for their flesh. However, before it even reached anywhere near his assailants, the mana connection that Junius had with his ability mysteriously vanished.

“Huh?”

Confused, Junius looked around in shock, recklessly trying to find the cause of his failure; and he didn’t have to search for long. A Black Mask, bearing the mark of a golden crescent moon on his forehead, gradually approached Junius from the centre of the lake. Although the lake spanned for kilometres, the viridian-haired individual slid across the massive water body like a nimble water strider, forming large ripples with every step. In his hand, a hiltless obsidian blade, sharper than a serpent’s tooth, absorbed all forms of light into it, making it seem like a blade of death.

‘Damn it, it’s the guy who attacked us before!’

Instantly recognising the blade that almost claimed his life, Junius bit down hard on his lips, causing a trickle of blood to flow out. To be able to disperse his ability so efficiently, one had to have a much higher cultivation level as compared to him. Given that the Kshatriya could fight the Instructor to a standstill, it was not a surprise that he could do just that.

‘I have to find a way out! I can’t just die here!’

On paper, Junius was stuck in a hopeless situation. Surrounded on all fronts by Spirit Users with a much higher cultivation level than himself, it would take a miracle for him to escape out of this containment. Fortunately, the Black Masks weren’t planning on immediately executing him, giving Junius some buffer time to think about how he could run away. Knowing this criminal organisation, they were probably planning to capture and torture him to gain information.

While Junius was busy trying to figure out a way to escape, the Kshatriya had already landed on the rocky shores of the lake. Opening a path for their leader, the Black Masks retreated with their heads bowed down.

“Tsssk!”

Clicking his tongue in annoyance, Junius endured the pain that was pulsating through his entire body after taking two heavy blows and limped in the opposite direction of the Kshatriya. With his Azure Water Blade in hand, he despairingly tried every means that he had to deter the path of the Black Mask that was gaining on him. Using pierce multiple times didn’t work as all the Kshatriya had to do was take one step to the side. Using Elemental Ring was helpless as the Spirit Lord could effortlessly disperse that ability. Nothing that he had in his arsenal even remotely worked.

Finally, the Kshatriya seemed to have decided to stop messing around. In less than a fraction of a second, Junius was flung into the air and thrown viciously down into the cold hard floor, causing a small crater to be formed. Convulsing violently, Junius felt his strength leave him. If not for his mana body enhancement, perhaps he would have been knocked out cold with every bone in his body violently shattered. Trying his best to move, he found that four lanky men were pinning him down, binding his every action.

His vision murky from the impact, Junius still tried his best to struggle. Unfortunately, it was all for nought. In his delirious state, the only thing that he could see was a pinkish palm with a pure black aura coating it descending quickly upon his face.

“I’m sorry…”

The last thing that Junius heard was a gravelly voice apologising to him. At that moment, Junius truly believed that he was going to perish.

“Lily… Shin…”

Muttering out the names of those he loved, Junius felt his consciousness leave him as everything in his world turned pitch black.

~~~

Himmel Empire. Aldrich’s Keep. Visitor Lodgings.

After the big commotion that Shin had caused, he had continued to treat a further five more patients before he utterly ran out of mana. Also, once the other healers saw how hardworking a mere teenager was being, they doubled their efforts, not wanting to lose to someone who was almost half their age. Therefore, the patients present in the sick bay were practically all treated within a single day. Satisfied with his result, Shin decided to call it a day. Desperate to get into the good graces of the talented youth, Escred ensured that Shin was adequately escorted back to his abode by stalwart guards of the Keep.

Overwhelmed by the constant eyes that followed him everywhere, getting out of the sick bay was a refreshing change of pace for the young teen. Lying down on his comfy bed, Shin recalled the happenings of the day. Once he returned from the sick bay, he had planned to report to his Master, but she had yet to return. Assuming that she was out on official business, he returned to his room with Bingbing snugly lying next to him.

“So you’re actually this strong… Then why are you so attached to the weak old me?”

The first time he heard of Bingbing’s powers was when the Shrine Maiden explained to him the tiers of beasts. Initially, although he had heard of it, he didn’t actually believe that Bingbing was a Tier 8 Spirit Beast. After all, all these years he had been treating the snowy white gerbil as some sort of pet or mascot. Thus, Shin could not imagine her being able to fight off a vicious Spirit Beast many times stronger than himself.

However, after that incident at the sick back where she froze Escred with nothing more than a thought, Shin was forced to reevaluate his view on the creature that he had so frequently treated as a mere pet. It also raised a further question. Why was Bingbing so attached to him? If his memory serves him right, whenever Bingbing was exposed to a stranger, she would almost always ignore that person, but since the first day that they met, the Tier 8 Spirit Beast had instantaneously taken a liking to the black-haired youth.

Bingbing’s ears twitched adorably when she heard Shin’s question and simply licked the exposed skin of his forearm. Although she unquestionably had the intelligence to understand the youth, the snowy white gerbil refused to give a definite answer.

“Whatever…”

“*Bang!* *Bang!*.”

While Shin was busy thinking about Bingbing’s behaviour, a violent knock on the door could be heard.

“Shin, open the door! We have just been issued an assignment!”

“Huh?”

From the other side of the door, Ariel’s sharp and juvenile voice sounded out. Bingbing snared in annoyance after hearing the hateful girl’s voice while Shin threw his blanket up in the air, getting up in the process. Unlocking the door, he was greeted by three youthful girls donned in their sleepwear. During their stay at Aldrich’s Keep, each person was given a single room that was all next to each other, regardless of their genders. Ariel and the twins were given the rooms closest to Shin. Thus, at any time of the day, they could come and visit the black-haired youth.

“Shin! Tomorrow we will be entering the Uncharted Wilderness! Finally, we can get to pulverise some Beasts!”

Ariel exclaimed out in joy. Possessing a pure attack Spirit, she felt trifled in recent days as she had not measures to let loose.

“Wait, what do you mean? Why are we going out to the Uncharted Wilderness?”

Since Ariel had skipped some details, Shin was unable to comprehend her words.

“Hah… As always, Ariel is overly excited… Lady Seph is going to be leading an expedition out into the Uncharted Wilderness tomorrow to investigate the strange happenings leading to the recent purge and all of us from the Frie Clan are expected to go. After all, officially we’re here to train.”

Ella, who knew that Ariel wasn’t able to adequately explain the situation, butted in with her own explanation.

“Master is? Why would she do that?”

Shin clearly understood his Master’s motivations. Although she had accepted to come to the Keep, there was no way that she would volunteer to lead an expedition for the military.

“I don’t know, you can ask her tomorrow. Since we’re part of a cell, we will be travelling together, so senior Ines told us to inform you.”

“I see… Okay, thank you.”

“Hey, Shin! Since we’re here, why don’t we discuss our abilities?! That way we can improve our teamwork!”

Emma lightly clapped her hands together while wearing a cheery smile.

“Y-yeah! That seems alright…”

Apprehensive about letting three girls into his room in the middle of the night, Shin hesitated at first. However, not knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses in cultivation might serve to be their downfall in the perilous Uncharted Wilderness. Thus, Shin opened the door wide and welcomed the three girls into his humble abode.

Chatting late into the night, their merry chatter was abruptly halted when Ines found out and hysterically lectured them about the boundaries between boys and girls, forcing the girls to return to their own rooms.

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