Book 5: The Capital || Chapter 28: The School Year Begins (4)

Shin followed Kanari all the way from the bustling classrooms that held the spirited younglings of the academy to an empty lot that seemed to be removed from the rest of the campus. Although there had been people that attempted to tail the duo, in hopes to witness the epic clash that they had expected, they were all shaken off by the irregular movements of the Witch in the South, leaving Shin to believe that Kanari had majored in eluding stalkers prior to entering the academy.

After ten minutes, the gorgeous young girl made her way into a remote part of the campus where not many people knew about. Pushing open numerous aged wooden doors, Kanari led Shin into a magnificent abandoned auditorium, that hadn’t seen the touch of human life for decades. At the centre of the theatre, there was a single oak tree, that towered over all that ventured near it. Spreading up high towards the ceiling, the tree emitted an invisible essence that made Shin’s jaw drop in awe. With every breath that he took, Shin could feel his mind clearing and the mental pressure that he had mounted on himself the months after Ariel’s death had somewhat alleviated itself.

‘Ariel…’ Losing himself to the comfort that had enveloped his entire soul, Shin felt a single tear drip down his porcelain clear face as he begun to become sentimental. ‘I hope you’re doing fine…’

“Oh, I’m sorry! I forgot to warn you about the effects of this place! The essence produced by the Soul Tree will force you into a state of mental ambiguity!” While Shin was happily embracing his emotions, Kanari’s concerned voice echoed through the recesses of his brain, snapping him out of his stupor and back into reality.

“It’s alright… Thank you for bringing me here… It really helped me.” Shin gave his gratitude to the alluring beauty, even though he was well aware that it wasn’t her intention to help him.

“…” Kanari stared at the young teen with a queer stare. Her bright and adorable eyes were opened up wide as she pondered on the hidden meanings behind Shin’s words.

“What is this mystical tree? How could it affect my emotions that much?” Unaware that he was being treated like a research specimen, Shin questioned the black-haired beauty.

“It is a rare Soul Tree. Found in the canyon where the Tree of Illusions remains hidden, it feeds on the immense spiritual power that one of the Empyrean Wonders of the World emits out, making it one of the most potent saplings in the world. It was donated to Imperius Academy by the Highgarden Duchy many years ago for research and has remained out of reach from the regular student.” Kanari patiently explained.

“The Empyrean Wonders of the World?” Shin tilted his head after hearing the unfamiliar term.

“Hmmm? You haven’t heard of them?!” The young girl was shocked that Shin lacked the knowledge of something that was so widely known. “That’s shocking… Are you really part of Spion?”

“Spion? What’s that?” Once again, Shin was taken aback by the new term that Kanari had said.

“Wait… You weren’t sent by my mother to monitor me?! You’re really just some talented student that the Principal had picked up?!” This time, it was Kanari’s turn to get surprised. All this while, she had worked under the impression that Shin was a covert operative sent by her mother, the Duchess of Highgarden to keep watch over her. After all, Rank 18 Spirit Apostles that were just fifteen years of age didn’t fall from the sky. 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m just a regular student that came to Imperius Academy to further my studies.”

“Ah… I messed up…” A bead of nervous sweat dripped down her forehead as she realised her blunder. She had jumped to conclusions too quickly and had dragged an innocent student into her matters.

‘Whatever… Since he’s a genius level Spirit User, perhaps having him as an ally might give me some benefits later on.’ Always willing to see the brighter side in life, Kanari shook her head in denial.

“Ermmm, was that your business with me? You thought that I was sent to monitor you?” Shin awkwardly questioned the black-haired beauty, who was in the midst of trying to diminish her headache.

“Yeah… I apologise, I shouldn’t have called you here without proper investigations… It’s just tiring, you know…” With a despondent sigh, Kanari stared at the ceiling as Shin started to see an invisible baggage being weighed upon her shoulders. Evidently, the young girl had many troubles that weren’t apparent at first glance. “Well, whatever… I can’t undo stupidity. Since we got that cleared up, maybe we could form a friendship. It’s not every day that we get to find someone that’s of similar cultivation level.”

Kanari was right. In the natural cultivation world, Spirit Users that were fifteen years of age were all Spirit Practitioners, and only the best of the bunch would be able to make it into the Spirit Apostle Realm. And even that was a rarity. Yet, Shin had reached the peak of Rank 18 while Kanari had already formed her Spirit Core! Both of them were immense talents that any organisation on the face of this Earth would love to get their hands on.

“I see… Could you answer my questions first though? I’m just a country bumpkin, and I lack the common sense that someone from the Capital might have.”

“Haha, to call yourself a country bumpkin when you’re at Rank 18 and had entered the prestigious Imperius Academy is a bit of a reach don’t you think? Whatever, as a bit of good faith, I’ll answer one of your questions. However, if you want to ask more, I would need payment.”

“What do you mean?”

“A tooth for a tooth. I can’t just answer your questions for free right? If you ask me one question, I get to ask you one as well. Oh, the first query you have would be free though!” Using her experience as an aristocrat, Kanari tried to gain Shin’s trust with her equivalent exchange method. Like many students in the academy, Kanari’s goal was to form valuable friendships that could last even after she graduated and building a bond with Shin, who was certain to become one of the most treasured talents that the Empire would want to nurture, only seemed to have merits for the young lady.

“That sounds fair… Okay, here’s my first question.” Shin thought about the terms for a short while before promptly agreeing to it. “How did you become a Spirit Core cultivator at your age?”

Of all the questions that Shin was curious of, the most pressing one was how the hell did Kanari train to form her Spirit Core at such a young age. As someone who sought to grow stronger, it was a novel concept. 

“Hmmm? That’s your question?” Kanari eyelids twitched slightly as she let out an inaudible gasp. Evidently, she had never expected that Shin would be so straightforward when asking her a question.

“To be honest, there’s not much to tell. I had awoken a powerful Spirit that was baptised by a natural phenomenon. Ever since then, my cultivation has been smooth sailing, with many of my mentors teaching me the proper way to cultivate. Before I knew it, I had already reached the peak of Rank 19 and could condense my Spirit Core.” Kanari patiently explained her experience.

‘So there’s not much difference as compared to me? Perhaps it might be just the environmental factors…’ Shin hypothesised. As one of the most talented individuals in the Capital, Kanari had access to some of the most spiritually dense areas that the world had to offer. Furthermore, the number of genius teachers and spiritually rich resources might have also played a factor in her immense growth. ‘Looks like I really have to gain the number one position if I want to have similar resources given to me…’

“My next question is about that Soul Tree that you were talking about. What are the Empyrean Wonders of the World? What is the Tree of Illusions?” Shin asked the next question that plagued his mind. 

“You do know that’s more than one question?” Kanari playfully teased the youth.

“T-that!”

“Haha, I’m just pulling your leg. I’ll answer those questions, but I hope that you would be honest when I ask you my question. Where to begin?” Kanari captivatingly tilted her head. If Shin hadn’t been ‘trained’ by Lady Seph’s beauty, even he might have had his heart moved by the Adonis that lay before him.

“The Empyrean Wonders of the World are mysterious natural creations that produce large amounts of spiritual energies. Each Empyrean Wonder generates an inexplicable phenomenon that baffles scholars till this day. For instance, the Tree of Illusions is an Empyrean Wonder that creates an endless mist that messes with any living being’s consciousness. Even though we know that it is in the Illusory Canyon, no one can pinpoint its exact location as accounts differ from person to person. Previously, a Spirit Saint wished to uproot the Empyrean Wonder once and for all and charged headfirst into the canyon. Unfortunately, he was trapped in the canyon for decades, and eventually, perished due to his madness.” 

“You’re saying that the Tree of Illusions managed to kill a Spirit Saint?!” Shin exclaimed in horror. Spirit Saints were the apex of the cultivation world, and just one of them were capable of taking on millions at one go. Yet, an esteemed Spirit Saint perished to an immobile tree?

“Exactly. That’s why the Empyrean Wonders of the World are so revered. Of course, not all of them are harmful to cultivators. The Celestial River that the Lantis Republic possess is one example. It baptises many of their Spirits and allows the Spirit Users of the republic to become many times stronger. Additionally, the annual Northern Lights of the Kori Federation alleviates the cultivator’s soul into another dimension, greatly improving their comprehension abilities. Also…” Kanari explained the variety of Empyrean Wonders that were known to man in comprehensively, helping Shin broaden his horizons.

‘There’s still so much I don’t know…’ Shin was absolutely floored with his new-found knowledge. He had read hundreds, if not thousands of books during his days in Chilyoja Waypoint, and yet, there was still so many things that he was utterly ignorant about. After all, he had only spent time in three places. Frie Mountain, Chilyoja Waypoint and Aldrich’s Keep, all of which were congregated in one location. To call him a country bumpkin was an understatement. Shin was basically equivalent to that of a frog in the well.

“I see… So what does the Soul Tree here have to do with the Tree of Illusions?” Looking up at the giant oak tree that seemed to discharge a glorious essence, Shin couldn’t help but ask.

“The Soul Trees are just watered-down versions of the Tree of Illusions. They were normal trees in the beginning, but after being baptised by the spiritual energy that the Tree of Illusions emitted, they evolved into transcendental objects that could play with a person’s mind. Thankfully, they are not capable of forcing a human into insanity, and the most that could do was give off a comfortable feeling.”

“No wonder…” Shin nodded his head in agreement. The feeling that he had gotten from the Soul Tree was a gentle one, and he didn’t believe that the mystical plant could have been malevolent in nature.

“Anyway, that’s enough questions from you. Now it’s my turn!” With a smile that could charm a million men, Kanari took one step forward, forcing Shin to unconsciously cower backwards.

‘She’s not as aloof as she first let on…’ Shin was stunned by how Kanari was behaving. During the opening ceremony, all that Shin could see was a black-haired, composed girl that seemed to transcend the masses. Yet, when he had a one-on-one interaction with her, Kanari was much more child-like than Shin had expected.

“Who are you?”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Don’t try to act dumb! There’s no way there would be a Rank 18 Spirit Apostle that came from nowhere! I know all of the famous children our age in the Capital, and I had never even heard of you! Don’t you think that’s unusual?!” Kanari explained her logic in a high-pitched voice.

“Ah… There’s really nothing to tell… I’m just a commoner that was picked up with my cousins by Principal Erudito.”

“Cousins? Oh, you mean Ella and Emma Iofiel?”

“What? You know of them?” Shin widened his eyes in surprise.

“Of course. I always investigate those who I want to join my team. That’s why when I looked further into your data, I’m stunned to find out that there was nothing there! No prior residence. No connections to any organisation, and the worst of all, no family to trace back to. It’s as if you never existed until you came to the Capital.”

‘She knows that much?! That means she knew about my cultivation level even before the school began huh? That’s why she thought that I was sent by her mother…’ Shin theorised.

“So I’ll ask you one final time… Who are you?” Squinting her eyes, Kanari further pushed her line of questioning.

‘Should I tell her? But I don’t know anything about her intentions?’ For a second there, Shin was tempted to spill the beans about everything. However, after a brief moment of careful deliberation, the young teen opted to conceal as much as he possibly could.

“I am what the information says I am. I was a commoner who had worked hard in cultivating and managed to reach the Rank 18 Realm. Word of my accomplishments had reached the ears of Principal Erudito, and he had offered me a scholarship in the academy, alongside my close cousins. There’s really nothing much to tell. The reason why you never heard of me is due to my willingness to stay low key.”

“…” Kanari coldly stared at the young boy. She felt that there was definitely more than meets the eye when it came to Shin but she couldn’t fault him without any evidence. “Whatever. I’ll just naively believe you for now. Anyway, I apologise for mixing you up with someone from the Spion. If you have any troubles, you can feel free to approach me! I am always welcoming of great talents!”

Knowing that the conversation would lead to nowhere, Kanari decided that it was best for them to go their separate ways for the moment.

“Thank you for your offer.” Bowing his head in respect, Shin promptly exited the room, leaving the black-haired beauty alone with the Soul Tree that towered over the auditorium.

[Mistress. Was it wise to just leave him alone like that?] 

A deep and suppressed voice echoed through the chambers the moment that Kanari was completely alone. As someone who was slated to be the future Spirit Saint of the Himmel Empire, there was no way that she would be left unguarded when meeting with an unfamiliar person.

“Yeah, he’s not going to budge. I really thought that Spion sent him, what a blunder…” Kanari rubbed the temples of her forehead as she worried about how she was going to report her mistake to her mother. 

[Should I investigate further?]

“Yes, please. I’m actually quite curious about his background. Why would he be so secretive about it? Why did Principal Erudito not mention him during the meeting that we had? How could a commoner cultivate till Rank 18? There are too many things that don’t make sense…”

[Affirmative. I’ll send someone to gather information.]

As the voice said those words, silence returned to the auditorium. Kanari stared at the gorgeous Soul Tree that stood behind her as she let out a deep sigh.

“Shin Iofiel… Who the hell are you?”

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