After being chased away by his Master, Shin dispiritedly walked down the bustling path back to the Mushinkei. Chilyoja Waypoint over the three years didn’t change much. The streets remained the same with constables doing their daily patrols while enforcing the safety of the town. Shouts of merchants luring customers into their den echoed through the commercial district and children, who were just finishing school skipped merrily back home.
Wearing a luxurious grey robe with exquisitely embroidered fittings, Shin looked like the son of an affluent noble who had begun his evening stroll of the town. His jet black hair now flowed down to the nape of his neck and covered his ears. Oddly enough, although Shin did not pay much attention to how he looked, his natural appearance remained prim and proper, giving him the demeanour of an upper-class citizen.
Feeling slightly tense in his shoulders, Shin rotated his head around while trying to release the tension of his muscles. His azure blue eyes, which permeated one’s soul, glanced around at the surroundings, observing everything in sight. No matter how much he tried to do otherwise, Shin’s mind kept returning to the words that Lymark and his Master just said a few moments prior.
The threat of Aldrich’s Keep falling was genuine. If nothing were done to stop it, everything that he knew would be at risk. The restless town that he had come to love, the innocent children who offered him flowers from their school. The granny who was living her twilight years in peace down by the northern gate that fed him her signature dish whenever he visited. The local butcher who gave him free extra toppings whenever he asked for it. All these innocuous people, who had little to no spiritual power, would all be exposed to severe risk once Aldrich’s Keep falls. Perhaps even the people he held most dear back on Frie Mountain might be unable to weather the storm.
Thinking deeply about the matter, Shin’s feet moved solely based on muscle-memory to propel him back to the Mushinkei. Before he realised it, an ostentatious edifice came into view. Snapping out of his stupor, the black-haired youth slapped his face twice to freshen up and opened the tremendous door that lay in front of him.
“Shin! You’re home~! How’s work?”
A cheerful voice called out to the young boy. Donned in a hot pink traditional mandarin gown, Riko flashed an exultant smile as she welcomed Shin. As if untouched by time, the femme fatale retained her sultry looks and her milky complexion. Bending her down her waist, Riko rested her elbows on the marble counter with her hands supporting her dainty head.
“Sister Riko… It’s tiring…”
Shin deliberated on whether he should share his worries with the upbeat young woman but eventually decided against it. Riko had plenty on her plate right now. Marshall, the manager of the Mushinkei, had just returned to Frie Mountain for his quarterly reporting and Ines had been sent far away for a mission, much to her adamant refusal of course. The Instructor had been busy with training the other orphans.
Last year, Max, Fionn and Elyse, who were two years younger than Shin, underwent their Spirit Awakening ceremony. Oddly enough, the three orphans did not manage to awaken water elemental Spirits which came at a great shock to the other members in the division. It had to be said that every single orphan from Junius to Shin had awakened water elemental Spirits. They were even told that the previous clan master had specially chosen abandoned children who had shown talent with water elemental spirits.
However, Max awakened an earth elemental Spirit while Fionn and Elyse both awakened a wind elemental Spirit which contradicts the explanation that the Instructor had given them. Feeling suspicious, Junius and Shin meekly questioned the burly, bald man once when he came to visit. Pushing out a mournful sigh, the Instructor claimed that he too had no idea and evaded the questioning.
Unable to dig up any more dirt, the two decided to let sleeping dogs lie and returned back to their own lives.
“Oh ho~! Do I see an opportunity to administer my world famous Riko massage~?!”
Bring her arms up from the counter, Riko’s eyes begun to beam in passion and anticipation as she assumed a stance that was suitable for giving a person a massage.
“E-ermmm, it’s okay! Oh, look at the time! I need to go and cultivate!”
“Wait! Don’t you want… Arghhh!!! He ran away so quickly!”
Although it seemed like Riko had the best intentions for the black-haired boy, in truth, her Riko massages disguised her true intentions. To brutally demolish the puffy cheeks of Shin’s. The poor young lad had fallen victim to her trap multiple times but as they say, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Learning from his previous experiences, Shin knew that the best course of action was to swiftly retreat whenever the young woman showed her intense gaze.
“Phew, that was close…”
Bolting up the stairs, Shin felt the energy being drained from his thighs as he fell to the floor. Wiping off the cold sweat on his forehead, the black-haired boy heaved a sigh of relief as he felt like he had dodged an arrow.
“Shin? Why do you look so pale?”
At that moment, a husky, masculine voice called out to the young boy. Turning in the direction of the call, Shin noticed a tall male teenager, who was over 1.8 metres tall, walking down the hallway towards him. His rich viridian hair had been cut short and his body, which had been lean three years ago, had gained a significant amount of muscle. The sharp nose, free of any blemishes, complemented his high cheekbones and really highlighted his prominent chin. When he smiled, two adorable dimples made his manly face seem a little less intimidating.
“Junius… Just the usual…”
“Sister Riko again huh? She never gives up does she?”
Over the past three years, Junius had started to make a name of himself in the constable’s circle. Starting from the very bottom as an apprentice constable, he worked his way up and had been promoted twice, the most recent one happening on his seventeenth birthday. Never slacking off on the job, he had made a good impression on the many constables he worked with. His affable nature made him a popular pick for patrol shifts, and due to his suave image, Junius had become some sort of a mascot for the town constables.
In the three years, even though he was sloughed with work, Junius never slacked when it came to cultivation. He had advanced from Rank 11 to Rank 15, making him the youngest mid-stage Spirit Apostle in Chilyoja Waypoint. Although it was a far cry from Shin’s advancements, it had to be said that cultivating at higher ranks is generally much more difficult. In total, Junius hard work and determination had managed to propel him fifteen ranks in just a mere seven years.
His battle prowess similarly improved at an exponential rate. Among the lower ranks of constables, Junius had the most number of arrests. Due to his approachable attitude and good-looking smile, he had garnered quite a large fanbase in the waypoint.
Working in law enforcement can be tough as they are literally policing over the common folk, monitoring the citizens every suspicious move. Thus, there may be times where the public would have a negative impression of the constables. Having a young, tall, handsome teenage boy, who was popular with residents of the waypoint really helped to boost the overall image of the constables.
“Hahaha, if she’s so desperate, why not let her do it?”
“Are you insane?! You might think it doesn’t hurt because she looks frail, but her pinches rival that of Senior Ines’!!!”
“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad…”
“Hmph! Why don’t you try it next time?”
No matter how much time had passed, the duo would always find a way to bicker about the smallest of things. Junius being the elder brother, loved to tease Shin, whose over-exaggerated reactions brought out the playful side of the viridian-haired youth.
“So how was your day?”
Like any concerned family member, Junius questioned the fatigued boy.
“Actually, something bad had just happened…”
“Hmmm? What is it?”
“It’s like this when I returned to the clinic…”
Junius was the one person that Shin had placed the most trust in. Whenever he was feeling down or a troubling matter that he had no answer to, presented itself, the black-haired boy would always confide his troubles with Junius. Without missing a single detail, Shin recounted everything that had just occurred in the clinic just a few hours ago.
“What?! Aldrich’s Keep is in danger of being overrun by beasts?!”
Shouting out in shock, Junius eyes quivered frantically as he lost control of his senses. It was rare for the youth, who was usually as cool as a cucumber to be that shaken. It went to show the severity of the situation.
“Why doesn’t Lady Seph agree to it right away?! If Aldrich’s Keep falls, won’t it be bad for Chilyoja Waypoint, the place where she lives?”
Rapidly blinking, Junius was unable to comprehend the elderly woman’s thoughts.
“I don’t know… Master said something about military and politics, and that I would not understand… I have never seen Master that depressed before…”
Junius’ mouth twitched a little after hearing Shin’s words. It seemed that there was more than meets the eye when it came to Lady Seph not accepting Lymark’s request.
“I wonder if Mayor Nadeo knows about this news…”
Changing the subject, Junius wondered if the higher-ups in the town knew of the threat that Aldrich’s Keep was under. After being a constable for so long, he had a cursory understanding of how the government works in the town. If the news that the impregnable fort could possibly fall spread in the waypoint, there would be an outpour of panic and anxiety. In fear of losing their lives, desperate prosperous citizens would flee the town, destabilising the social hierarchy. Without their employers, those left behind might turn to looting and crime to survive.
It was highly possible that Mayor Nadeo and Lewis knew of the dreadful news and deliberately covered up the entire thing from the public. With his hands supporting his chin, Junius pondered over the situation. All of a sudden, the teenage youth jerked his body forward as he realised something vital.
“If Lady Seph goes to Aldrich’s Keep, don’t you need to follow her?”
From the start when Shin heard Lymark’s claims, never did the thought that he would be leaving the waypoint cross his mind. Gulping down a mouthful of saliva, he struggled to come up with a reply.
“Master didn’t say… She did say something along the lines that she didn’t want to expose me to the military that early… Perhaps…”
Piecing together his Master words, Shin hypothesised on the possibility of him leaving the waypoint; and the more he thought about it, the more it seemed likely.
“Ah… Don’t think about it too much. You should be getting some rest.”
Seeing Shin’s pinkish complexion turn pale, Junius advised the boy to retreat to his room. However, truth to be told, he was also unsure of whether Shin should leave the waypoint. Junius remembered how distraught the boy was when he moved away from Frie Mountain three years ago. It took them a long time to grow accustomed to the life in the town.
Nodding like a lifeless doll, the black-haired boy slowly trudged into his room, leaving a glum Junius behind. The extravagant lodging remained mostly unchanged. The bed was still as comfortable as ever. The space between the four walls was still extensive even though Shin had just entered his growth spurt years.
“Hah… Let’s just not think of it.”
Going to a nearby drawer, Shin took out a thin manual. Its blue leather cover released a foul smell as it had been tainted by time. Wrinkles on the yellow parchment made some of the ancient words illegible, causing the young boy to squint ever so often.
“Time to cultivate…”
Shin’s daily routine consisted of three parts. In the morning, Junius would wake him up early to go through a gruelling exercise that matched the Instructor’s deadly practices. When the fiery ball in the sky was at its highest, Shin would head straight to Yakkyoku Clinic and tend to Lady Seph’s every need. Naturally, he spent a considerable amount of time spending his mana, thus improving his efficiency with his abilities. Finally, when the terrestrial moon graced the heavens, Shin would take the recovery pill or tea that Lady Seph provided him that day and begin his cultivation.
For some odd reason, Shin felt his cultivation progress much more smoothly whenever he cultivated at night. Perhaps the water elemental spirits hibernate during the day due to the immense heat causing his mana replenishment rate to dip.
Flipping the pages of the Celestial Water Mantra, Shin found a suitable chapter to begin his chants. Shin had read the manual from cover to cover multiple times, but he had never managed to fully memorise the mantra. It was as if a mysterious force prevented the boy from printing the wisdom of the book into his head. Shin prided himself on his ability to learn materials from printed paper rather quickly but every time he attempted to comprehend the manual, he felt himself drawing a blank.
More often than not, Shin felt like he managed to learn something new whenever he re-read the book that had been accompanying him all these years.
Popping in the fragrant pill handed to him by his master, Shin closed his eyes and started to chant mentally. Circulating the mana inside of his body, the cute little cerulean Koi made its appearance once more as the boy begun his cultivation session…