While the Master-Disciple combo was having their little emotional time, Shin’s body was sprawled out on top of his comfy mattress as he stared blankly at the empty ceiling. After listening in on the meeting, his brain was overloaded with a plethora of new information, and he required some time to process it.
“Am I really going to some school?” Shin thought out loud as he felt his body getting heavier.
Never one to plan out his future, Shin didn’t know what to feel about his Master’s plans for him. All this while, his mind had been entirely preoccupied with finding Junius. From joining the search party formed by the constables to dealing with the meddlesome Frie Clan members at the Mushinkei that kept pestering him to come home, Shin was too exhausted from thinking of anything else.
Sighing deeply, the black-haired young teen raised his right hand in the air and gingerly examined the distinct lines on his palm. When he was in the earlier meeting, all he could do was hang his mouth at every turn, unable to chime in even a single word. Two Spirit Emperors who stood at the apex of the cultivation world could only bow down in trepidation at the Spirit Saint who overpowered them all. Wondering how long would it take for him to reach that level, Shin bit the corner of his lip.
“If I continue down this path, if I follow my Master’s instructions, would I become strong as well?” A seed of doubt had been planted deep into the recesses of his adolescent mind. As a healer, all that he could do was treat injuries and illnesses as they came. Additionally, since learning from Lady Seph, his combat ability had significantly dropped. Before, he was confident that even if he faced Ariel face-on, there was a slight chance that he would triumph if he tried hard enough. However, in more recent years, Shin would merely avoid challenging Ariel altogether.
“Can I really become strong going down the healer’s path?” Shin thought out loud. Judging from its name, the Imperial Military Academy might be able to help train the young teen in ways that Lady Seph could not. Perhaps by broadening his horizons like what Escred had advised him to do back at Aldrich’s Keep would be the right way. Yet, whenever he thought of leaving behind his loved ones behind on Frie Mountain, a dark hole of guilt latched on firmly onto the young boy’s heart.
Emma, Ella, Elyse, Lily, Lia, Ryner, Max, Fionn and Jacob. All of the orphans were still ‘trapped’ on the mountain with nowhere to go. Now that Junius had gone missing, god knows what emotions would have run through their minds? Especially the blue-haired beauty, Lily. Being Junius’ beloved, the young maiden loved the missing youth with all her heart. Should Shin also leave to a far away land, how would the remainder of the orphans feel?
Additionally, a specific scarlet-haired fiery girl would without a doubt, pulverise both his legs before he even got a chance to leave.
“Ariel… I wonder what you are doing now?” A warm feeling sprouted out from the depths of Shin’s being as he thought about his childhood friend. Even though he and the Frie Clan were currently at odds, Shin has many allies in the clan that he would never give up on.
On the day she left, Ariel promised to send a letter down, informing Shin of the situation in the clan. However, there was no sight of a message being delivered after such a long time.
“Hah… Whatever… I’m sure a letter will come soon…” Reassuring himself, Shin stretched his tensed up body as he sat up from his mattress.
While he started to think about the impish scarlet-haired girl, Shin remembered how much of a bastard he was back when Ariel was comforting him in his time of weakness. No matter how much he hated the Frie Clan at that moment in time, Ariel was wholly unrelated to the fact that they had abandoned Junius. In fact, she wanted to immediately run out and help Shin with the search party. Yet, instead of feeling empathy for the concerned girl, Shin chased Ariel out of his sights as if she was a parasite.
Thinking back at all the times in Aldrich’s Keep where she never left his side for fear of putting him in harm’s way or about the time she consoled him in his darkest of hours when he failed to heal Ronlen, Shin felt that he owed Ariel a sincere apology.
“*Ttte!* *Ttte!* *Ttte!*.” At that moment, soft tapping sounds echoed through the room from the top of the young teen’s ceiling, as if a discrete cat had landed on top of the clinic’s roof. Twitching his ears upwards, Shin observed the empty grey wall.
“Hmmm? What’s that?” Curious about the sudden noise, the young teen hopped to his feet and slowly made his way to the window. Since the curtains were drawn, there was no way for him to check and now that the waypoint was under siege, Shin wanted to find out if a beast had made its way this deep into the town.
Cautiously advancing forward, Shin gathered his mana and summoned out The Sovereign Koi, causing a dim and gentle cerulean light to illuminate the dark room that he stayed in. The worn wooden floorboards creaked like as Shin transferred his weight over with every step. Slowing opening his silken curtains, the young teen was greeted by the dazzling night sky that housed the radiant full moon and the myriad of twinkling stars. Hesitant to step out of the safety of the clinic, Shin simply shrugged his shoulders as he said:
“Must be my imagination…”
Convincing himself into a false sense of security, Shin wasn’t able to anticipate the sudden change that had occurred. The solid ceiling that sheltered him from rain and shine had all but collapsed as pieces of brick and wood fell straight to the floor. Dust clouds and debris filled the small study room, burying anything that lay under it.
“*Cough!* *Cough!*.” Wheezing out as much as he could, Shin crawled into a safe corner and huddled himself into a ball. Disoriented and terrified, Shin felt as if the entire world had caved in onto his body as all of his normal bodily functions seemed to had failed. His sense of smell had been blocked by the terrible smoke and dust that was prevalent in the room, causing mucus to spew out uncontrollably from his nose. The silent peace of the night had been replaced with a sharp ringing sound as his consciousness started to slip away from him. Losing control of his tear glands, Shin felt his entire vision go blurry as his eyes were filled with water.
As the dust began to settle, Shin slowly became aware of his current position. Using his dirtied clothes to wipe his face, the young teen tried to regain his bearings and challenge the threat that had invaded his abode.
“Urghhh… What happ-!” However, as his vision started to become clearer, Shin gaped in horror.
Standing in front of him, there were four tall figures. Each person was draped in a brooding black attire that absorbed all semblance of light. Their faces were hidden behind an even darker mask, Shin realised the perilous situation that he was facing. He had encountered members of this organisation once before, and it had nearly killed him. Not in the right state of mind to consider their purpose for barging down from his ceiling, Shin struggled to get to his feet so that he could evacuate to safety.
Unfortunately, there was no way that reality was that kind. The Black Mask at the forefront of the group that bore the mark of the golden crescent moon gathered his mana together. Black smoke, darker than the murkiest of nights, congregated around the Kshatriya’s body as a hiltless obsidian blade formed within the compounds of his bony fingers.
“That!” Recognising the black blade that nearly claimed his life those many moons ago, Shin inadvertently shouted out. On the day that Shin and Junius left Frie Mountain for Chilyoja Waypoint, their caravan was attacked by the very same Black Mask syndicate, and the one who led them was precisely the same person that stood before him now. Thinking that he had come to finish the job, Shin desperately tried to run. However, for some reason, his legs seemed to disobey him.
“Don’t worry. Just sleep…” For the first time ever, a haggard voice gently echoed out from the depths of the mana filled mask as the Kshatriya attempted to calm the teen down. Being a Rank 50 Spirit Lord, the spiritual pressure that he could mount on a mere Spirit Apostle was immense. In front of someone who was absolutely more powerful than him, all that Shin could do was wait for his demise.
“That’s what I want to say to you, you assholes!” While Shin had nearly resigned to his fate, the four Black Masks felt an insurmountable pressure descend upon their bodies, forcing them to fall to their knees.
Waking up from his abhorrent nightmare, Shin felt two existences appear next to his body. One of which was a small snowy white rodent, while the other was a gentle being with unparalleled beauty. Using her soft yet firm hands, Lady Seph lifted up her disciple in her younger self and created a barrier of light using her Iofiel Angel. The moment the duo felt an irregularity coming from Shin’s room, Lady Seph immediately cast self-rejuvenation to return to her peak powers and wrecked through the walls to arrive at her precious disciple’s location.
“To think that someone dares to harm my Grand-Disciple… I think that you guys have some explaining to do!” Although Lady Seph was the first to react, the person restraining the intruders wasn’t either of the two beside Shin.
Effortlessly avoiding the pile of debris that lay lying all over the floor, Lady Althea cracked her knuckles in annoyance as she walked into the room. Her nostrils were all flared up as the creased wrinkles on her forehead started to show. Although she was still wearing an amicable smile, Lady Althea’s eyes weren’t as friendly as it may have seemed.
‘A Spirit Venerate?! No, this pressure… This locking of space… She’s a Spirit Saint!!! Why the fuck is a Spirit Saint here?!?!?!’ His face lying flat on the floor, the Kshatriya cursed his miserable fate. The number of Spirit Saints in the Himmel Empire could be counted with the fingers of one hand, and yet, one of them just happened to be in the vicinity just as he was about to carry out his mission.
In the cultivation world, there was a saying. ‘If you ever make a Spirit Saint your enemy, just beg for forgiveness and hope for the best,’ and there was a good reason why. The threshold between a Rank 89 Spirit Venerate and a Rank 90 Spirit Saint seemed to be only one level, but it was also the hardest one level a cultivator would ever face if they ever have a chance to reach it. A Spirit Saint was the absolute peak of the mortal world. Instead of a human, a Spirit Saint was much closer to the existence of gods. With just a thought, they could move mountains and calm natural disasters, and one of the most famous abilities that a Spirit Saint could obtain was the locking of space.
And that was what the Black Masks were currently facing.
“Alright then… I’ll take my time to slowly ‘question’ you…” Edging ever so close, Lady Althea casually threw out a threat, going against the anti-violence philosophy of the Healer’s Association that she was supposedly leading.