Book 5: The Capital || Chapter 16: Strange Encounters (2)

A day in the life of Shin was simple. He would start his day by waking up at six every morning. After a quick shower, he would put on his training gear and head down to the elaborate gymnasium that housed a plethora of exercise equipment such as weights that could be strapped onto one’s body and bamboo poles that acted as balancing practice. Typically spending his entire morning in the gym, Shin would physically strain his body to the limit. Sometimes, he would even enlist the help of Emma and Ella, the two expert bow users, to shoot arrows with their arrowheads removed, so that he could train his reflexes.

In fact, the other orphans would join in on the morning practice as well, based on their newly found resolves. Ryner, Elyse and Fionn, who were the most desperate to become stronger, would try their best to keep up with the maniacal training regiment that Shin had prepared for himself. Unfortunately, after a few days, they were forced to tone down their workout as they lacked the tools, namely the healing ability, that Shin possessed.

Skipping breakfast, he would work up an enormous appetite for his late lunch, where Lia would prepare a nutritious and heavy meal for the adolescent youth. As he would eat, Shin would read up on the various training practices that a combat-oriented Spirit User would adopt, and with his comprehension ability, he visualised the best ways for him to train. However, since he lacked a proper tutor, the only things that Shin could do was guess.

After lunch, he would begin on his cultivation session. Since he had the Celestial Water Mantra, there were no issues when it came to his self-cultivation. As a matter of fact, he was already at the peak of Rank 17 and would breakthrough any day now. In a perfect world, he would form his Spirit Core and learn a combat skill from that promotion, but due to the four-month time limit imposed on him, Shin was not focused on that path.

Once he was satisfied with his session, which was usually four to five hours each time, Shin would take a late afternoon lap around the area. It was essential for the young teen to run about, as he felt that there was a tremendous calming effect about being near the verdant mountains that had been left untouched by human interference. During this time, Shin would forget the miserable memories that plagued him and could enjoy one to two hours of peace.

Finishing his run, the young teen would take a long shower to cleanse his body from the toxins that had been released throughout the day and have one communal dinner with all of his loved ones. In this life, the only people that he cared about were now all around him. Ariel and Lily had passed, while Junius had gone down the dark path. When he watched over the placid faces of the orphans, his master and Bingbing, Shin felt his desire to protect them burn ever so brightly.

Subsequently, after dinner, Shin would simultaneously start his second cultivation session as well as studying the numerous books that the mansion’s library provided. Only when the clock struck midnight, did he retreat from his gruelling day to finally catch some sleep. 

His insane schedule would repeat itself endlessly as the days went by, and Shin would follow the plan to the letter, never compromising for even a single second. From the time where he woke up at six in the morning to the time where he went to bed at midnight, Shin would be tirelessly working hard to train his body. 

Today, the young teen was doing the exact same routine. Tying his laces so that his shoes would stay firmly attached to his feet, Shin was preparing for his late afternoon jog.

“Hey, Shin! Try to come back early today! Ryner went hunting and caught a full-sized deer, so we’re preparing a feast today!” Lia shouted out from the kitchen.

“Ryner did? Won’t the deer be poisoned?” Shin replied back, his face full of scepticism. Ryner’s Water Salamander Spirit was a potent one, but its acidic attacks didn’t make it the best hunter.

“Haha, don’t worry! He didn’t use his acid on the deer! Anyway, we should be ready within the hour so try to rush back.” Lia lovingly smiled. 

It has been over three weeks since Lily and Ariel tragically passed on during the Black Masks attack on Frie Mountain. The orphans, while emotionally damaged at first, had slowly started to recover as many of them didn’t carry the same bleak expressions as they did before. For Lia, who was convinced that she had to take on the role as the ‘mother’ of the group, she had been laughing a lot more in recent days. Determined to make their new mansion a proper home where all of the orphans could return to, Lia had been doing her best to be an emotional pillar of support.

“Okay, I’ll try.”

“Don’t try, just come back a little earlier! We need your bottomless stomach here!”

“What am I, a pig?”

“In my eyes you are!!!” With a face full of mockery, Lia teased her younger brother.

“Urghh, I’m off…” Scoffing while rolling his eyes, Shin promptly walked out of the hallway and went straight out of the mansion. 

‘My usual route would take at least two hours though… Whatever, I’ll just explore the place a little.’ Shin watched the surrounding environment and let out a sigh.

From the first day that the orphans moved into the mansion, they had been trying to familiarise themselves with the foreign surroundings. Lady Seph’s new estate was located in a remote part of the Capital’s east side, and that meant that there was very little human life populating the area. The majority of the time, when the orphans would wander around the area, they would get lost in how beautiful the landscape was.

The cleft hills were littered with verdurous greenery, making the mansion a utopia for little animals to explore. Nearby, a vast and pristine lake, that glistened in the dazzling sunlight became a frequent travel destination for the new residents. Not only was it alluring to the human eye, but it was also a hot spot to watch the local fauna react. Sonorous hymns of birds filled the area as the local deer and wildcats drank merrily from the water source. 

Shin was a particularly big fan of the immaculate lake. Being the owner of the Eminence of the Lake, The Sovereign Koi, Shin felt a mysterious connection whenever he was near a large water body. Furthermore, in these times of stress, Shin needed a place where his mind could be put to ease.

However, since he had to return early today, the young teen opted to take a different route. Lightly jogging his way in the opposite direction of the lake, Shin tried to explore more of his surroundings. Even though they were given a simple map so that they wouldn’t get lost, it was still better for the orphans to use their bodies to familiarise themselves with the environment.

‘Hmmm? What’s that?’ After thirty minutes of his light exercise, Shin noticed an odd peculiarity with one of the nearby hills. ‘Is that a cave?’

An opening into the grassy hill could be seen thirty metres up from ground level, piquing the young teenager’s curiosity. 

‘Maybe I should investigate? It looks safe…’ Shin gave a brief assessment of the area before committing to his action.

In the Capital, there were virtually zero untamed Spirit Beasts in the wild. Due to its close proximity to the heart of the Empire, all areas that contained Spirit Beasts were wiped out early on, and every year, an annual cleansing of the wilderness would be conducted. However, even though there were no longer any barbaric Spirit Beasts around, ferocious animals such as wild bears or tigers still existed. 

Although it would be dangerous for a child to roam into a cave without a skilled adult around, with Shin’s current capability, he should be able to comfortably dispatch an animal that didn’t possess any mana. Thus, judging that there was no danger, the young boy kicked off from the ground and darted towards the cave.

The grotto was deep and dark as a chilling air, brushed against Shin’s exposed skin. Peering into the darkness to the best of his ability, Shin couldn’t sense any forms of life other than the browned moss that was prevalent at every corner.

“Come out!” Congregating his mana in his hands, Shin summoned the cute little cerulean Koi, so that it could act as a light source. Puffing its gills in annoyance, The Sovereign Koi showed its displeasure for being used for such a menial task, but ultimately, it was unable to defy its master’s orders.

“Don’t sulk. It’s not like I’m using you for food or anything.” 

“…” Incapable of replying, the only thing that The Sovereign Koi could do was flap its fins around in a flurry.

Carefully pacing himself, Shin crept deeper and deeper into the cave. An eerie fog that floated beneath his knees made the cavern much colder than it needed to be, but ultimately, Shin endured the cold and pressed on. After a few minutes of exploring, the young teen finally came to the end of the dark tunnel and was astonished by what he saw.

A linen mat with numerous baskets of food was scattered all over the grey rock floor, hinting that someone had been using this cave for their own personal use. The pungent stench of incense masked the natural smell of the den, forcing Shin to cover his nose in the process.

‘Someone has been cultivating here? Since there’s no trace of mana, perhaps it hasn’t been in use for the past few days… I should inform Master of this place!’ Shin thought out while unconsciously stepping away. There was no telling if the Spirit User that had been using this place was a powerful one so it would be the wise choice to retreat and let Lady Seph handle this situation. Unfortunately, he was too slow to evacuate.

“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?! COMING INTO MY SPECIAL PLACE?!?!?!” A furious voice bellowed through the cave, forcing Shin to cover his ears with his hands. Due to the cramped nature of the area and the spiritual pressure being released, Shin heard something in his ears pop as blood flowed out from the gaps in his fingers.

‘Damn it, I screwed up!’ Uncorking two of the three gourds that lay on his waist, Shin brought out all of his healing and poisoned water. The healing water raced towards his eardrums in an attempt to repair the broken pieces while the poisoned water created a sphere around him, hoping to deter the attacker from launching an all-out attack.

“Fucking brat. Why the fuck are you here?!?! Don’t you know students aren’t allowed in these parts during the school term?!” Realising that he was a little impulsive before for injuring a young Spirit Apostle before he got the chance to explain himself, the voice calmed himself before hollering out once more, this time without spiritual energy.

“S-Senior! I don’t know what you’re talking about! I recently moved into the nearby mansion just a few kilometres south from here!”

“Huh? Someone finally bought that fucking house?” Recalling that old estate that had been left uninhabited for a few years, the voice was rather taken aback. Although it was relatively cheap for its size, due to its poor location, not many people were interested in that building. “To think that someone would buy it… I’m guessing you’re the child of the owner then, brat…”

A misty shadow flew down from the ceiling and approached the groaning Shin. From the corner of his teary eyes, Shin was able to make out the basic features of the man that attacked him. Standing at over 1.8 metres, the man, who looked like he was in his thirties, had fully tanned skin and possessed a lean build. His green eyes that seemed to resemble the beautiful greenery that surrounded gave the man a distinct earthen look that was highlighted by his unkempt scruffy brown hair. 

“Who are you?” Not dropping his guard, Shin questioned the tall man.

“Asking that right off the bat? Who the fuck taught you manners, boy?” The man sharply retorted with a face full of disgust, unaware that he was the impolite one in the conversation. “Whatever, my name is Mychael. I’m a teacher at Imperius Academy, and would probably be one of your future teachers.”

“Huh? How did you know I would be attending the academy?!” Shin exclaimed in shock. He had just met Mychael for the first time today and yet, the man was able to accurately guess that he would be attending the Imperius Academy.

“Are you a fucking maggot that lacks a brain? Anyone who can think could guess that you would be a student in my school!!!” Unwilling to bother explaining himself, Mychael shot Shin a second glance, examining his physical state. “Hey, who the fuck taught you how to train? Your entire body is on the verge of collapse! At this rate, you would undoubtedly break yourself before you enter the freshman year!!!”

As someone who had taught in the academy for decades, Mychael could tell how bad a student’s training was with a single look, and Shin’s current body state was among the worst that he had ever seen. 

“Why the hell are you focusing so much on breaking your body?! Haven’t you heard of using your mana to enhance yourself?! Who the fuck is your master?!” 

“Don’t insult Master!!! She’s way stronger than you can ever hope to be!!!” Shin exploded after hearing Mychael demean Lady Seph again and again.

“Tsssk, this is why I dislike pampered brats… Whatever, leave here now, I still have some cultivation to do!” Not willing to play around with Shin anymore, Mychael grabbed the teen by the collar and with one swift motion, flung the young boy out of the cave. Flying out of the grotto, Shin landed flat on the grassy floor. Thankfully, the ground was soft. Otherwise, he would have gotten out of that incident in a far worse state.

“What the hell?! How did he do that?” Shin was left bewildered. How could such a thin and feeble looking man generate so much power? And then, a specific sentence of Mychael echoed itself through the young man’s head.

‘Haven’t you heard of using your mana to enhance yourself?!’

Mana enhancement of the physical body was not a secret that no one had heard about. In fact, to a certain extent, Shin was able to do that too. However, the trick to strengthening one’s body varied from individual to individual. Without a proper teacher to guide him, Shin had no clue about where to start, and could only base his training from the books that he read.

“Maybe I could get him to help me!” At this point, Shin was desperate for any possible methods to strengthen himself. If he could enlist the help of a teacher from the Imperius Academy even before he entered, the teen would have a much better chance of impressing Principal Erudito once the four-month time limit was up.

Rapidly healing himself from the bruises and cuts he sustained from the fall, Shin ran up the hill once more to converse with the eccentric individual that he had just met.

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