Beautiful orange rays of sunlight flowed down upon the earth, waking up all that the nascent rays touched. The bright milky clouds flowed side by side, allowing the cooling morning breeze to direct their path. Civilians of Chilyoja Waypoint all arose to go about their daily activities. Children went to class while adults went to work. However, unlike their regular days, a predominant narrative was being passed around by word of mouth.
The news that the Frie Clan, the slumbering giant of the West, was attacked by the Black Mask Syndicate spread like wildfire, as it was all the town could talk about. Being so close to Frie Mountain, there were some that were able to feel vibrations of the battle, and when the crimson mushroom cloud that resembled a rose came into sight, there were some high-level Spirit Users that could sense the change in the environment and rushed skyward, hoping to catch a glimpse of the action.
Many of the strongest Spirit Users in the waypoint, including Chief Constable Lewis and Mayor Nadeo, toyed with the idea of rendering their assistance, but ultimately decided against it as defending the town was a higher priority. Nonetheless, their thoughts and prayers went to the Frie Clan, hoping that they would be able to weather the storm that they were currently in.
It was currently ten in the morning. Shin and the other orphans, who had got in late last night were still in the midst of their recovery sleep, and no one dared to disturb them. After the emotional and physical trauma that they had been put under, they required some time to refresh their brains, Shin especially. Initially, he thought that he would be unable to sleep as the nightmare that was Ariel’s death would haunt his dreams. However, the stress and pain eventually got onto him as he cried himself to the Garden of Hypnos.
Thus, as morning enters midday and the temperature rose drastically, Shin found himself in an uncomfortable environment for sleep. His lashes quivered as his eyelids rapidly twitched. Turning his head sideways, he opened his dull eyes, which had been hardened due to the dried up tears that he shed, and looked around the empty room.
“Was that all a dream? Is Ariel still alive?” Hoping that everything that happened the night before was just a sick joke that God had played on him, Shin prayed desperately for everything to be a nightmare and his beloved one was still in the mortal realm. However, as he glanced down at his chest, he noticed a cheap amethyst necklace, that contained little specks of dried up blood on it.
“Damn it… DAMN IT!!!” Grasping the cheap knock-off necklace that Ariel had him buy for her many years ago, Shin wailed out loud once more. Since he had cried his all yesterday, the dried up eyes of his was unable to produce more tears, leaving him with nothing but his sobbing chest.
“Ariel… I can’t believe that you really left me…” Shin tried to control himself, but nothing could be done about his overflowing emotions. The memory of Ariel’s unmoving corpse was still fresh in his mind, and the desperation that he felt was second to none.
“Shin? Are you awake? Are you okay?!” A loud knock on the door could be heard as Shin was wallowing in grief. Emma, who was living in the guest room, had got up early and was preparing the funeral rites for Lily alongside Ryner and Lia. However, when a deafening scream could be heard coming out from Shin’s room, Emma immediately rushed upwards to check on the black-haired youth.
“Emma? Yeah, come in…” Weakly replying to the concerned girl, Shin composed himself as he hid the amethyst necklace within his shirt.
“Shin… Are you alright?” Taking a few steps forward into the young boy’s room, Emma queried on the teenager’s sanity.
“Emma… I’m alright, it’s just… I can’t believe that everything really happened… I really believed that it was just a cruel nightmare. I thought that if I woke up today, perhaps everything would go back to normal. I guess fairy tales really don’t exist.” Sighing despondently, the Shin shook his head as he got out of bed.
“Shin… I’m sorry…”
“Why are you apologising?”
“If I were stronger… If I had a higher cultivation level… Perhaps I might have been able to save Ariel from the attack.” Emma’s head dropped as her eyes darted from side to side. As someone who was close to Ariel the moment she sprung forward to save Elyse, she had a clear view of the exact second that the scarlet-haired girl lost her life. The powerlessness that she felt was burned firmly into her mind.
“Emma… It’s not your fault… Ariel’s just like that. She lived life on her own terms. The fact that she rescued Elyse at the expense of her own life… It was her own choice…” As Shin recalled the face of the now deceased young girl, he couldn’t help but release a sigh.
Ariel was a beacon of light in Shin’s life. Her bubbly attitude towards life and constant smiles always brightened the young teenager’s day. Not to mention, her future was extremely bright. Having awakened a Spirit that triggered a natural phenomenon and obtaining a large number of resources from the Frie Clan, Ariel would at least reach the Spirit Emperor realm in her lifetime. Yet, the glorious future that she might have had was all but ruined, just because she wished to save someone precious to Shin.
“Yeah… Ariel was like that. Up till the very end…” Peering her eyes upwards, she could sense the melancholy that the black-haired youth was under. Evidently, the pain from losing Ariel has yet to subside.
“Shin… Is it really true that Brother Junius had entered the Black Mask syndicate? Even if they were the remnants of the Awter Clan, why would he be so willing to enter a criminal organisation such as the Black Masks?” Hoping to take his mind off the death of Ariel, Emma changed the subject. The issue regarding Junius was a tricky one for the orphans.
On the one hand, they knew how much Junius cared for them, especially the now deceased Lily. Therefore, when they heard how he had ordered the attack on the Second Elder’s abode that had decimated three innocent lives, the orphans couldn’t believe their ears.
“Junius did join the Black Masks! He was the one that lured me into the sewers so that they could kidnap me and bring the First Elder out of Frie Mountain!” His anguish quickly turning into anger, Shin’s eyes burnt with the purest of hate for the viridian-haired teenager that was directly involved with Ariel’s death.
It was funny how fate worked. Just a few days before, Shin was desperately searching for any clues for his beloved brother and just the slightest tip would have sent shivers down his spine. Now, even though he still wished to find Junius, it was for an entirely different reason than before.
“We have to stop Junius and the Black Masks, and to do that, I must become stronger. Right now, I’m too weak as a healer. That’s why when I get to Imperius Academy, I will be pursuing a different path!” Clenching his fists, Shin stated his resolution for the future for the first time. Although Lady Seph knew of his decision to leave her tutelage, the other orphans were still kept in the dark. Thus, when Emma heard of Shin’s plans, her eyes widened in shock.
“But Shin… You invested so much time in the path of the healer! Can you really just give it up?” As with all the orphans, Emma knew of Shin’s prestige as the youngest Healer in history. Hearing that Shin was willing to give it all away for the pursuit of strength came as a massive surprise for the young girl.
“There’s no choice, Emma. I’m way too weak as compared to the other Spirit Users in the world. Every single time there’s a battle, the only thing that I could do was spectate! If I had more power, I would be able to save the ones I love the most, instead of healing them when they’re on the verge of death!”
“Shin…” Emma’s eyes started to become misty. Shaking her head twice, she approached the young boy and buried her head into his chest, afraid that her tears would be contagious to the already broken Shin.
“Emma, I need to go down this path. But you don’t have to. You should live your life freely as a young girl. Choose a profession that you are good in, find a good man and settle down. You don’t have to risk your life joining Imperius Academy with me.”
“How could we leave you alone in that foreign place? Shin, we all care for your safety… We had just lost Junius, Lily and Ariel. We can’t lose you too!” Emma resolutely replied as her eyes sparkled. “Furthermore, Ella and I both want to become stronger as well… I want to become so strong that no one can bully us ever again!!!”
“Emma… Yeah, that’s right! Let’s become strong together. That way, we won’t lose anyone ever again!”
“Yeah!” Tightening her grip around Shin’s waist, Emma let out an excited cry.
‘Once I enter Imperius Academy, I must look out for Emma and Ella. Also…’ Turning his eyes outside the window, Shin’s gaze went far out. Being on one of the tallest buildings in the Waypoint, Shin could watch the fields outside of the town walls. Not focusing on anything, in particular, he scowled in anger as his thoughts landed on one specific individual. ‘Junius… When I meet you again, I will be powerful enough to apprehend you!!!’
Now that Junius had defected to the Black Mask syndicate, chasing after him with the intent to apprehend him was now Shin’s top priority. Shin wanted to catch Junius so that he could bring him over to Lily and Ariel’s graves to apologise. Due to their chase for vengeance, the Awter Clan remnants had turned into savage beasts that would even harm innocents to get what they wanted. Not willing to succumb to their level, Shin did not have the heart to seek revenge on the Frie Clan that annihilated his family. Watching as Vellan, Shia and Junius descended into madness, Shin had no thoughts about following their flawed path.
‘When I become stronger, then I will return to settle my debts with the Frie Clan.’ Shin sighed in his mind. It was a bitter truth that he had learnt the hard way. In this godforsaken world, everything boiled down to how strong you were. No one cares about how you felt. The only way to make people listen to you was to improve your power to the absolute limit. Ultimately, it all boiled down to how strong you were in the cultivation world.
“Shin? Are you awake?” At that moment, an adenoidal voice broke the silence of the room as Emma quickly released her hold on the young boy. Wiping her face full of snot and tears on his grey pyjamas, the young girl flashed a brilliant smile and walked towards the door.
“Master?” Shin tilted his head in confusion the moment he heard the voice. Although that distinct adenoidal sound was definitely belonging to his Master, somehow it seemed a little different, and Shin couldn’t wrap his finger around it. It sounded more light, sharper, and dare he say, more youthful?
“Oh, great! You’re awake!” As Emma opened the door so that Lady Seph could enter, what she was greeted with was not the typical blonde elderly woman that she had expected, but a young and breathtakingly beautiful lady, that was draped in the Divine Healer’s robes.
The gorgeous woman’s blue eyes sparkled as if they were precious sapphires that could be a Kingdom’s crown jewels. Her long and flowing blonde hair was tied into a bun and put in place by a laboratory tube that acted as a hairpin, showing that the woman didn’t really care about her appearances. Even though she was not wearing even the slightest of make-up, her supple white skin could rival those of professional idols and courtesans. Scratch that, it surpassed the levels of people in the beauty industry.
“Master? You used rejuvenation on yourself once again?!” Shin shouted out in surprise. He had seen his Master only once in this state before, and that was back at Aldrich’s Keep. Using self-rejuvenation to instantly give herself a power-up, Lady Seph would revert back to her prime. However, it came at a price. Once the effects wear off, Lady Seph would be instantly immobilised for days, making her use the ability sparingly. Thus, Shin was shocked as there was no reason for his Master to cast self-rejuvenation.
“No, you silly… I promoted. I finally broke the barrier that a Spirit Emperor could never cross! From today onwards, I am a Rank 80 Spirit Venerate!!!”
“…” Both Shin and Emma stood rooted to the ground with their mouths hung wide open. Only after a brief silence, did their mental faculties start to function again.