Like the Celestial River that dawned down from the mountains of the Lantis Archipelago, time flowed by in the blink of an eye and two months had passed since the duel between Shin and Danroy. Since the Capital of the Himmel Empire was located close to the equator, seasons were an unknown term to the affluent individuals residing here and the weather remained blistering hot and humid all year round. However, ever so often, a glorious downpour would fall from the heavens, giving the sweaty men and women a sense of relief as they relished in the slight dip in temperature. Which was what was happening at this very moment. In the rare moments where the Capital experiences heavy rain, students of the academy were all holed up in their own sheltered spaces, enjoying the cool weekend air.
Almost a quarter of the academic year has gone, and the freshmen had already been integrated into the daily routines of the campus, with many joining clubs that the upperclassmen had created. Of course, co-circular activities like that bore no interest to Shin and his group as they went about their lives trying to further their own agendas. Shin and the twins continued on their relentless training to become strong enough to fight against the Black Mask syndicate once more and bring Junius to justice.
Shizen was simply trying to live his life as carefree as possible while savouring the sweet nectar that was Shin’s created water. In fact, just last week, the happy-go-lucky boy, who never seemed to train or cultivate, had somehow broken through into Rank 18, stunning Shin and the rest of the group. Apparently, with his blessed Spirit and the divine water that was baptising it on a daily basis, Shizen didn’t even need to cultivate. Just by staying alive, Shizen was able to advance through the ranks with next to no effort.
Kanari was in the same boat as Shizen. All her life, she had been accustomed to flying through the ranks and this year wasn’t the year that she would slow down, especially when the competition in the freshmen cohort was so fierce. Shin was already fast approaching the Spirit Core realm, and once he promoted, Shin could possibly catch up to her in months. Thus, she doubled down on her training throughout the two months where Shin was still stuck at Rank 19 hoping to further her lead. Already making it to Rank 22, the Goddess of the Academy cemented her position as the top dog in the food chain.
The twins weren’t too far behind in their cultivation efforts either. Although they didn’t have it as effortless as Shizen did, Ella and Emma had both advanced into Rank 14, meaning that they had reached the base threshold for entering the Star Class. Unfortunately, if they were quicker by a few months, they would have entered into the same homeroom class as Shin and the rest of the group, but now, they had to wait till next year to see if they could make it into the famed class.
Seeing that all of her friends had made significant strides in their cultivations, Elrin, for the first time in her life, felt threatened by the prospect of losing out. She had always been easy-going when it came to her training, but when she saw how aggressive her competition was, the white-haired girl started to cram her studies as well. Although she didn’t manage to advance, the young girl had already reached the peak of Rank 16 and was waiting for a sudden epiphany to help her cross the final barrier.
Finally, there was Shin. For the past two months, he had been training arduously every single day. On the weekday mornings, he would attend school and do his due diligence as a student. However, when school was over, Shin would go into overdrive mode. Learning from his mistakes, the young boy would do experiments and create new techniques that could take on the monsters in his year, such as Suji and Danroy. Practising his martial arts techniques till he could master them and learning new techniques from the martial arts book repository that contained some of the Empire’s best fighting systems.
For instance, he had found a manual that shown him the best ways to use hidden weapons, such as the expert-grade acupuncture needles that were given to him by Elrin. Taking a straw dummy from the training yard, Shin tirelessly practised his craft. He had even combined the Lightning Swallow Steps to the technique to improve his chances of immobilising his target. The first time he tried it, it resulted in a colossal failure that ended with his ankles being broken. The next time he tried it, he didn’t even make it to the edge of the straw dummy before falling flat on his face. Finally, after hundreds, if not thousands of repeated attempts, Shin finally got the hang of the technique and had added a potent skill into his arsenal.
Unlike his difficult path of self-cultivation, his training sessions with Mychael and Madam Warulee went exceedingly well. Every session, Mychael would train the youth, albeit in a crass manner, to become the best physical martial artist that he possible could become. Through the tanned scoundrel’s excessive exercises, which sometimes borderline on the inhumane, Shin had developed a deep connection with The Sovereign Koi and was fast approaching the peak of Rank 19.
Furthermore, with Madam Warulee in charge of Shin’s welfare, the youth had been given some of the top resources that the academy had to offer. From medicinal baths to a personalised cultivation chamber, that was rich with water elements that had been migrated from the lake, Shin was on the fast track to reach the Spirit Core realm. An average student of Imperius Academy would enter the Spirit Core realm during their fifth or final year, while a talented one would attempt to condense their Spirit Core in their third or fourth year. Yet, here Shin was, three months into his freshman academic term, already ready to make the leap.
“I’ve heard that Shin Iofiel is about to attempt to break through into the Spirit Core realm during the weekend!” One of the gossipmongers of the freshman batch said to another.
“That quick?! Didn’t he just promote to Rank 19?”
“I know right?! That Shin is another freak of nature man! Although there has been no official announcement, the faculty members are somehow getting jittery. I see teachers going entering Shin’s personal cultivation chambers quite frequently now! He should be attempting to condense his Spirit Core any moment now!”
“Ahhhh, damn it! When will I ever get a personal cultivation chamber?”
“If you reach Rank 19, one would be assigned to you!”
“And how many years would that take?! God damn it, why are there so many geniuses in our cohort?!” Smashing his hand on the table, the freshman cursed his sour fate, unaware of the group that was seated just a few tables away.
“Shin looks like you’re the talk of the town yet again.” Isadore sipped on his apple juice as he commented on Shin’s current predicament.
“Well, it’s false though. I wonder who is spreading those rumours huh?” Shin glared at the silver-haired boy as if he were his worst enemy.
“Hey, don’t spout nonsense. I don’t give out false information. Only things that I find to be genuine would be disseminated into the public.”
“How very noble of you.”
“Why, thank you!”
“Boys, could you two not bicker every single time? It’s getting a little annoying…” Ella retorted with a deep frown. Since Shin and Isadore were ‘buddies,’ the two of them spent the most time together, even more than how much time Shin spent with the twins. There were even times where Isadore would sleep over in Shin’s dorm room, just to ‘deepen’ their relationship.
“Hehehe, Ella you should just let them be! They’re having fun!” Emma did her trademarked giggle while soothing the irritable mood that her sister was in.
“Hah… Honestly though, Shin… Are you going to attempt to condense your Spirit Core this weekend?”
“No, not yet. I haven’t reached the peak of Rank 19, and the Spiritual Body Enhancement ability that I wanted to learn hasn’t been optimised yet.”
“You’ve been training for this long, and you’re not satisfied yet?!” Ella jerked her head back in shock.
“It has only been two months, Ella… I’m comprehending a Spiritual Body Enhancement ability that would stick with me for the rest of my life. Of course, I’m going to be thorough.” Having been through only one promotion, Shin knew how scary it was to enter his Spiritual Body unprepared. With one erroneous step, his entire cultivation path would go astray, forcing Shin to destroy the months of hard work that he had prepared for this final step.
“Hmmm, that sounds fair. Either way, before you break through into the Spirit Core realm, make sure to inform us!”
“Fine, fine… Oh, speaking of cultivation, I think I’ll go do some now!” Shin took a glance at the towering clocktower at the centre of the academy and decided that it was time to train. “I’ll see you guys around?”
“Yeah, go do your thing.” Emma warmly replied. If Ella was the nagging mother that won’t leave Shin alone, Emma was the loving aunt that pampered Shin and soothed his soul.
“Alright, bye!” Taking one final bite of his lunch, the black-haired teen hurriedly kept his tray and ran towards his private cultivation chamber.
“Hmph! Must he be so rushed? We barely even had fifteen minutes with him.”
“You know how he is Ella… Always pushing himself one step further…”
“Honestly, he should take some time off. Too much training can’t be good for him either!”
“…” Isadore silently watched the twins interact with squinted eyes. There was a question that had been bugging him since he first met with Shin and he was unsure if he should bring it up to the youth. Therefore…
“Hey, Ella… Emma… Why is Shin so hurried all the time?”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s a genius cultivator. Everyone knows that. Yet, every time I see him, he’s never content. He always tries to push himself one step farther even though he is talented enough. I don’t understand what drives him to be so crazy.”
“Ah… That…” Understanding where the silver-haired boy was coming from, the twins dropped their head as a depressing memory surfaced from the depths of their minds. “You see… Shin is chasing a shadow. Two shadows to be precise. And they are currently miles ahead of him. He feels that if he doesn’t work hard, there would be no way for him to reach them in his lifetime.”
“Not just that.” Cutting in on Ella’s explanation, Emma’s eyes shifted from side to side as her pearly white teeth dug deep into her lower lip. “He’s also being chased by a monster. A monster that haunts his nightmares and would consume him the moment he lets his mind rest. Thus, he has to keep this face-paced lifestyle, else he would be devoured by the monster.”
Although the twins left out the details, they conveyed the gist of what drives Shin to such lengths.
“So whether he succeeds or fails, we have to be there to catch him. That’s why we’re here.” Shaking their heads, the twins stood up from the table to signify the end of the conversation. “We should get going…”
“…” Isadore used his tongue to wet the parched lips of his as he watched the girls leave the area. Evidently, there was a much more complicated tale that they were withholding from him, but since they didn’t want to share it, Isadore didn’t feel the need to press them.
“Every family has their own sets of skeletons in the closet huh… Well, it’s not like I want them finding out anything about my identity either…’” Isadore thought out loud. “Whatever, I guess I’ll find out eventually…”