Three days had passed since Shin, and the rest of the orphans were smuggled into the Capital by Principal Erudito, and they were beginning to settle down in their remote cabin. Due to the circumstances surrounding their arrival, they were not allowed to leave the mountain and could only live within the borders that Vie-Principal Hirda had laid out. After all, should their existence on the hill be revealed, especially to the young students in the Academy, a riot was sure to ensue.
With their movements restricted, there were a limited number of activities that the orphans could do. Shin, who was adamant about becoming strong enough for the combatant course, had split his day into three equal parts. He would spend nine hours a day doing physical training, nine hours cultivating his Spirit and finally, the remainder of his time was devoted for sleep and miscellaneous activities. Using his healing water, Shin could go on for hours and hours without rest, but that, in turn, caused the rest of the orphans to get worried about his mental health.
A lot of mournful things had occurred over a short period of time, and Shin barely had time to take everything in before charging headfirst to his new goal. Many of the orphans, were still wallowing in grief over the fact that Lily had died, and there Shin was, trying to break his body, and no one could stop him.
Occasionally, Lady Seph would intervene and force him to rest, but in recent days, she had almost always been out when the sun was up. After all, she had to find a new lodging for the orphans and use her connections to allow those not attending the Academy to discover a profession that they could enter.
“Shin, it’s time for lunch!” A youthful feminine voice echoed through the cultivation chamber that Shin was located in.
During these three days, the black-haired teen could be predominantly found in two places. Outside of the cabin, where he would do laps and strenuous physical training that would break the average person, and inside of the cultivation chambers that were littered all over Tsucai mountain. The Thaishu mountain range had always been a place where teachers and students alike could come and cultivate in. With enough merit, the faculty would award exemplary students with a private cultivation chamber where they could cultivate in peace.
“Lia? I’m fine, I’m not hungry…” Shin gingerly opened his eyes in response to the familiar voice. After Lily had passed, being the eldest female, Lia felt that the role of the orphan’s ‘mother’ had fallen onto her. Naturally, her gentle nature made it difficult to control the orphans, who all had varying attitudes, but she was still trying her best.
“Shin, you didn’t even eat breakfast!!! You should at least have a bite!!!” Lia hurriedly retorted.
“It’s alright. I can manage.” Adamant about continuing his training, Shin gave out a lazy reply before closing his eyes once more.
“No, you can’t!!! Please, Shin, don’t force me to drag you out myself!” As much as it went against her nature, Lia knew that she could not allow Shin to continue on his self-destructive behaviour. A gentle pale blue aura started to emit out from her body as her mana intensified exponentially. Summoning out her Cyan Hyacinth Spirit, tens of thorny water vines crept closer and closer towards the teen sitting on top of the stone bed.
“Lia… Fine… I’ll go.”
“Ah! Good! Today we cooked a special treat!” Once Shin acquiesced, the blue-haired girl’s eyes immediately brightened up as she reached out for his hand.
The dining room in the cabin that the orphans were staying in was simple. There weren’t any lavish furniture, and everything was kept to the bare minimum. A solid communal wooden table that housed all the dishes that Lia had whipped out was situated right at the centre of the dining room. When the duo entered into the room, seven pairs of eyes all darted towards Shin and Lia, and happy smiles started to form on all of the orphan’s faces.
Initially, the orphan division consisted of eleven young children. However, after ‘that incident’ only nine remained. Ryner, Lia, Shin, Ella, Emma, Max, Elyse, Fionn and Jacob. Of them, only the eldest five were part of the destroyed Awter Clan, the remaining juniors were all real castaways that the Frie Clan had found.
“Shin, you’re finally out!!!” Emma exclaimed in glee.
“Brother Shin… Come, sit here…” Tapping the empty chair that was next to her, Elyse beckoned for the black-haired teen.
When Ariel first gave her life to save Elyse, the amount of guilt that the young girl felt was beyond immense. There were even days where she would lock herself up from the rest of the world and had feared to face Shin, who was unofficially Ariel’s partner. However, after days of support from Shin and the rest of the orphans, she had regained a little of her hyper nature and was much less gloomy than before.
“Yeah…” Slowly making his way towards the vacant chair, Shin observed the rest of his family.
Fionn was typically a sharp and down-to-earth girl, due to her close relationship with Lily and Ella. However, instead of looking upbeat, there were dark lines that could be seen running down her bubbly face and her eyes would often stare at nothing. Her close encounter with death back on Frie Mountain and the fact that Linus, someone that she never cared about had saved her, had definitely created a bottomless pit in her subconscious. In fact, ever since she left the mountain, she had been mostly unresponsive and had shown no signs of recovery.
Sitting next to her, Max was in a similar state. Ever since he could walk, he had always associated Lily to be his closest kin. Perhaps it was due to their similar hair colour when he was a child, Max would rarely separate from Lily. Even as he was reaching his adolescent years, Max still stuck to Lily like they were glued together. Thus, seeing how she used her own life to save him, Max was caught in an endless spiral of despair. There were days where he would find himself sweating profusely as he woke up, as the memory of her death was painfully etched into his mind.
‘Youngsters like them shouldn’t have gone through such a painful ordeal.’ Forgetting his own age, Shin mentally commented about how painful the experience was for his juniors. ‘That’s why I must become stronger! To prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again!!!’
“Here you go, Shin. I cooked one of your favourites. Roasted chicken leg with mulberry sauce.” Once Shin was settled, Lia placed a plate of succulent meat right in front of him.
“No worries! I know that you want to train, but you can’t grow stronger if you don’t have the energy right?”
“Yeah…” Using his knife to cut the meat off the chicken leg, Shin observed the remainder of the orphans. When was the last time that they were all gathered in one place to enjoy a simple meal together? Shin couldn’t remember. Was it a year ago? Or was it two?
“Guys… I have something to ask.” Now that they were all alone, Shin felt that it was the right time to bring up a topic that had been on his mind for the longest time.
“What is it?” Ryner’s pupils dilated as he gave his younger brother his full attention. Similarly, Jacob, who was sitting next to him moved his attention away from the scrumptious chicken leg before him and gave Shin his undivided attention.
“Emma, Ella and I are all going into the Imperius Academy, so for the next six years, our paths will be set. However, I never heard about what you guys want to do. Brother Ryner, Lia, Max, Elyse, Fionn, Jacob… You have been caught up in the flow and had just followed Master and me to the Capital, but what are your plans?”
“Hmmm…” Hearing Shin’s query, Ryner fell into thought.
Shin was right. The orphans were like a miniature wooden raft in the stormy oceans. Wherever the current went, they followed, but now that they were independent, they should have their own dreams for the future.
“I think I will find a job that can help me hone my Spirit. I can’t be sitting on my butt the entire time while the three of you are training hard at school.” Ryner replied with his arms folded. Being the oldest of the bunch, he had the most pressure to become the stronger so that he could protect his younger siblings.
“For me… I just want everyone to be okay… I want all of you to return to a complete home where you can let your hair down and relax. So maybe I should stay at home and become a cook or a housekeeper.” Lia bashfully said. As with every complete family, there was always a warm home that everyone would return to. Lia’s dream was to create a wholesome home where her beloved family could return to.
“Of course, I will work hard at cultivation as well! I want to live with all of you for a long time!” Lia declared. Without promoting to the Rank 40 Spirit Spectre realm, the longest a human could live for was a hundred years. The orphans, especially Shin, were all talented Spirit Users that were more than capable of reaching the Spirit Spectre realm within their lifetimes. Therefore, if Lia wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, she had to work doubly as hard during her cultivation sessions, so that she would not be left in the dust.
“I see… What about you, Elyse?”
“I… I want to enter the Imperius Academy!!!” The sapphire-haired girl exclaimed, stunning everyone in the room.
“You want to enter the Imperius Academy?! Why?!” Shin hollered out in shock. Entering the military school meant that.
“I… I just want to be useful to Shin and the others…” Elyse dropped her head and softly muttered out. “I’m no good at combat. I’m not as smart as Brother Ryner or as sharp as Sister Ella. I have not particularly good at housekeeping as well… All that I have is this Cinereous Cyclone Dagger.”
Gathering her mana, Elyse summoned out her Spirit. A jagged grey dagger that, that seemed capable of severing even the thickest of heads, appeared in her petite hands. During her Spiritual Awakening Ceremony, both Fionn and herself awakened wind elemental Spirits while Max summoned out an earth elemental one. Jacob on the other hand, oddly enough, awakened a water elemental Spirit one year later.
“I don’t have anything that I’m good at, so perhaps I should enter the academy to find out which path is best for me. I want to be useful as well!!!” After reflecting on her current abilities, Elyse found that she was worthless as compared to her peers. Therefore, she wanted to enter the academy so that she could see where her talents lay.
“The Imperius Academy has many ties to the Himmel Empire Military!!! It’s better that you don’t attend it! You should find a school in the Capital that gives you more freedom to choose!!!” Shin sharply replied.
“Aren’t you going to Imperius Academy because it’s the best in the Empire? I too want to become stronger, Shin!!!” Elyse wasn’t willing to back down. There were many times where she wondered, if she was more powerful, would Ariel have died? Shin was currently working hard so that he could protect the rest of the orphans in the future. If she had the ability to defend herself, wouldn’t his burden be lessened?
“Y-You! Urgh… I’ll discuss this with you later.”
“Brother Shin… She’s right you know…” At that moment, a mellow voice sounded out from his side, as Fionn, who had been quiet this entire time, finally opened her mouth.
“We can’t remain this weak forever. Maybe entering Imperius Academy alongside Sister Ella, Sister Emma and you is the best path for us.” With the same action, Fionn congregated her mana into her hands as a charcoal scythe, strangely similar of the one used by the Grim Reaper himself, appeared.
“Brother Shin, I need to return to the Frie Clan… At least so that I can pay my respects to benefactor Linus.” Evidently, the death of Linus had made a huge impact on the young girl’s life. “That’s why I need to become strong enough so that they would let me in!”
Max and Jacob, the only two who remained silent throughout this whole exchange, were simply watching as Shin questioned everyone about their future. To be entirely honest, among the two, they had no idea about how they would proceed from here on out. Barring Jacob due to his young age and lack of maturity, Max was totally clueless about his future. In actual fact, he was unsure about how the others could move on to other matters when he was still mourning over Lily’s loss.
‘Sister Lily… What would you have me do?’ Even though he thought that he had cried his all, Max found his vision turn blurry as tears formed in his eyes.
“Yip yip!!!” At that very moment, an adorable squeak echoed through the dining hall as a beam of white light flashed through the room.
“Bingbing?!” Feeling an impact on his chest, Shin looked down to see the familiar Kamaitachi that followed Lady Seph everywhere. “Weren’t you supposed to be out with Master?”
“Well, your master has returned of course…” Waltzing into the room, Lady Seph hung her fur coat on the rack before addressing the youths having their lunch.
“Master! I thought you wouldn’t be back until sundown?”
“That was the plan, but the meeting that I had was faster than I thought. Anyway, finish up your meal quickly. Once you’re done, we’re going down the mountain.” Tapping her shoulders, Lady Seph relaxed her tense muscles.
“Huh? Where are we going?” Shin couldn’t help but ask.
“To our new home of course!!! Don’t tell me you want to live in this shithole for the rest of your lives?” With a triumphant smirk that would charm even the most celibate of men, Lady Seph folded her arms and announced.