“Y-Your own organisation?!” Kanari couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She had come here to headhunt Shin into the Highgarden Duchy, but there he was trying to poach her! “Do you even have any clue about what you’re saying?!”
Kanari was visibly shaken and with good reason. The Himmel Empire has stood for thousands of years, and the majority of the alliances had been set in stone. Family clans that had been serving since the Empire’s formation had been granted nobility status and had ruled over the lands for thousands of years. The trade routes and commerce of the superpower had also been long determined, and wise merchants had monopolised everything that exists. Simply put, there was no space for a new organisation to topple the foundations in which the Empire was built on.
“I’m well aware. It’s an arduous route, and I know not many would take me seriously… But this is my choice, my path.” Shin deeply exhaled and resolutely gazed at his fellow friends. “This organisation that I’m building, is necessary for me to achieve my goals.”
“Hoho, explain…” Elrin, who had been cheerfully teasing the youth, suddenly had a drastic change of expression. Even though she considered Shin to be a good friend of hers, the fact that he wished to form a new organisation instead of joining an existing one, truly rattled her feathers.
“Have you heard of the Black Masks syndicate?”
“Shin!” Before he could elaborate, Ella raised her voice in protest.
“It’s fine… For them to hear me out, they must know of my past.”
“…” Stunned speechless, Ella bit her lip as her entire body trembled. To the orphans, the issue regarding the Black Masks syndicate was a sensitive one, as just mentioning their name brings out memories that they wished to forget.
On the other hand, the four teenagers that came to visit opened up their ears in anticipation. Shin wasn’t one to share his past and most profound emotions. Thus it was a rare chance to learn more about their friend.
The Black Masks syndicate was an emerging influence in the Himmel Empire. Not only were they mass recruiting vile criminals, but they had also orchestrated some of the worst deeds in the Empire’s recent history. For instance, the fall of Aldrich’s Keep was widely known to be the actions of the Black Masks syndicate.
When Aldrich’s Keep fell, the Healer’s Association and the Himmel Empire called for an emergency convention where the leaders of the major powers met. They wished to discuss the threat of the Black Masks syndicate as well as the power of their enigmatic hegemon that ruled from the shadows.
The talks went fine. However, it quickly became apparent that the powers other than the Himmel Empire and Healer’s Association didn’t care much about the new threat. After all, the Black Masks syndicate had mainly only affected the Himmel Empire, and they hadn’t made their way north or eastwards.
With that, even though the Black Masks had caused a massive storm at the time, the commotion quickly died down with no powers willing to take any drastic actions. Since there was a period of peace, some in the Himmel Empire’s own government started to doubt their Emperor’s claim that the Allfather was a menace that had to be taken down.
Hence, the moment Shin brought up the name of the Black Masks, the four teenagers were unsure of what to expect.
“My true goal for coming to the Capital. The true reason why I switched from the Healer’s path to the path of a warrior, and the reason why I’m setting up this organisation of mine… Is because of the Black Masks.”
Shin sat at the edge of the bed and began to narrate everything. From his humble beginnings as an orphan in the Frie Clan, to how he got recruited into Lady Seph’s tutelage. He told them about his eldest brother, Junius. He told them about the Awter Clan, the conflict that the two clans had entered, and eventually, the massacre that ensued.
Throughout his entire account, the orphans pursed their lips while trying their best to hold back tears. Even though Shin was merely narrating the events, those who had lived through them couldn’t help but feel despondent.
Kanari, Elrin, Isadore and Shizen all furrowed their brows and dropped their heads. No one truly knew what they were thinking but based on the brooding atmosphere that they were emitting, even a dunce could figure out that their emotions were in disarray. The four had been interacting with Shin and the twins for almost a year now, and they considered them as their best friends. Yet, they knew nothing of the suffering that the trio had gone through.
“When the Black Masks attacked Frie Mountain when Junius ordered the fatal strike that killed Ariel… I was lost. I… wanted to die.” Shin’s fingernails dug deep into his palms as fresh blood flowed out. “But, I can’t… To protect my family, to ensure that nothing of that sort ever happens again, I must grow stronger.”
“Shin…” Elyse’s palms shivered as she sat next to the forlorn youth. Putting her hands on top of Shin’s the girl comforted her elder brother, and placed her head on his shoulders.
“It’s fine…” Shin tapped Elyse’s hands and shook his head. After taking a deep breath to regain his composure, Shin resolutely stared at his visitors. “To achieve my goals, I’m planning to create my own organisation. It will be an establishment with the firm goal of neutralising the threat of the Black Masks.”
Silence descended upon the room as everyone did their best to digest the new information that was sprung onto them. Everything now made sense. Why was Shin training so desperately even though he was one of the most talented individuals in the academy? Why did he abandon the lucrative healing path to start from scratch as a warrior?
Among the four individuals in the room, three of them had lived sheltered lives, and while Shizen had it rough, the mental traumas that he had incurred were nowhere close to the levels that Shin had experienced. In fact, the brown-haired boy now understood why he felt a sense of kindred with Shin. With both of them being orphans, they had a somewhat similar starting point.
Elrin and Isadore kept their mouths shut as they couldn’t fathom the amount of pain that Shin had just described. They had been sheltered their entire lives. Gifted with an abundance of resources and the luxury of staying in the Capital for an extended period of time, the affluent children couldn’t even begin to imagine the physical and psychological pains that Shin and the orphans had been through.
And then, there was Kanari.
The black-haired ethereal beauty was the first to discover Shin’s talents and had always been vocal about recruiting the boy into the Duchy. Unfortunately, time and time again, Shin had turned her down, and if she were completely honest, it had gotten on her nerves some of the times. Biting down her lower lip until she tasted iron, Kanari started to realise how much of a fool she was.
‘Once again, he proves that I’m inferior…’
Recruiting Shin? How laughable. She didn’t even have half the life experiences that the boy had been through and she was the heiress of the Highgarden Duchy! Compared to Shin, Kanari was way to inferior.
“Sorry, Shin…” Unable to handle the silence, Kanari’s mouth unknowingly spat out words. “I was blind…”
“There’s no need to apologise. I understand that all of you have your own troubles as well.”
“Still, there’s no way that we can leave our families to join your organisation, you should know that right?” Elrin interrupted. As much as she felt heartbroken after hearing Shin’s story, some things could never be done. She was the heiress of the Zedcris Conglomerate while Kanari would inherit the Highgarden Duchy eventually. Shizen was a talent that every major organisation would love to get their hands on and Isadore… Has both his hands tied.
“I know, I wasn’t planning on having you guys join officially. Furthermore, I’m not going to create the organisation formally until I graduate from Imperius Academy.” Shin wryly smiled. The majority of his friends were monsters of their generation, and thousands of establishments could provide better resources for any of them. Additionally, in the case of Kanari and Elrin, they couldn’t hope to leave their own respective houses to benefit another.
“So what are you proposing?”
“A coalition!” Shin declared at Elrin’s prompt. “You scratch my back, I scratch yours. The organisation… Or should I say troop that I’m planning to make would become hunters that track and crush any Black Masks operations. However, our activities don’t have to be limited to just that! If the Highgarden Duchy or the Zedcris Conglomerate wishes for it, we can become exclusive partners where I would work for you in whatever matters you want!”
“So, you would be a mercenary?”
“Something along those lines, I guess? However, the top priority of the organisation would be to hunt the Black Masks. Be it covertly or otherwise.”
“And you could do that with your current powers?” Elrin raised her brows. Although her words sounded harsh, it was the merchant inside of her that was speaking. To negotiate the best deal for her company, the white-haired girl needed to know of the limits that Shin could reach.
“I know… I’m weak now, be it in influence or personal might. Thus, I won’t create the organisation until after I graduate. By then, I’ll definitely cultivate to the Rank 40 Spirit Spectre realm, and I’ll at least have a stable influence on the grand stage.”
“That’s a big claim…” Elrin chuckled. No one in the history of Imperius Academy had reached Rank 40 while they were still schooling. Although Kanari was expected to be the first, it was still just an estimate. To reach the Spirit Spectre realm, to cross the first barrier of humanity, before the age of twenty-one, was something few in history could ever hope to accomplish.
“I will do it! No… I have to do it! That’s the only way for me to avenge Ariel and knock sense into Junius!”
Shin was well aware of his limitations. So what if he was talented? He had no background, no influence, and worst of all, he was still weak. If he were given a hundred years, perhaps he would be able to ascend to the ranks of a Spirit Saint, but that was a reach. The current Shin was no stronger than a housefly, compared to the giants of the cultivation world, let alone the mighty Allfather.
“Graduate? So you’re going to make use of Imperius Academy’s resources to grow while hiding under its umbrella… That’s actually not that bad of an idea.” Elrin rubbed her chin as she contemplated on the gravity of Shin’s words. Since he was still studying, Shin could hide the fact that he wasn’t going to join any of the Capital’s organisations, and he could continue to familiarise himself with the Empire’s customs and forge lasting relationships with many prominent institutions.
Shin was currently at the end of his first year, and he could spend five more studying. Five years wasn’t a long period of time, but it wasn’t short either. In the six years since awakening his Spirit, Shin had promoted to Rank 21 and had learnt a variety of techniques including the coveted ‘heal’ ability. Furthermore, his mind would only mature over the years, and the experience he accumulated would boost his cultivation methods even further. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that Shin could cross the first threshold of humanity and promote to the Spirit Spectre realm.
“Shin… Is that your final decision?” All of a sudden, the quiet Kanari raised her hand and spoke out. Her voice was as chilly as the winter winds of the upper north itself.
“Yes, that is my final decision.”
“I see… I understand your drive, but I hope you would understand mine.”
“Huh?” Shin slowly backed away as he felt a drastic change in Kanari’s disposition. Even though they had been in the same clique for about a year now, this was the first time he had felt a sense of dread from Kanari.
“I won’t give up on you.” Kanari succinctly replied. “You have your plans, I have mine. For now, I will accept your drive, but I hope that you wouldn’t discount mine. During the next five years, I will continue to convince you that the Highgarden Duchy is the right place to be.”
“Hoho, that’s your plan?”
“As I said, I won’t give up.” Kanari beamed. She had just made up her mind to bring Shin to her side through any means possible. There was no way that she would back down on that now. Taking resolute steps forward, Kanari reached the edge of Shin’s bed and firmly grasped his two hands, much to the surprise of the others in the room.
“I will help you achieve your goals, so help me achieve mine.”
For a moment there, Shin’s heart wavered. He even thought that Kanari had used her innate charm ability to bewitch him to do her bidding. However, after sensing no rise in spiritual power, Shin realised that he was just overwhelmed by Kanari’s sincerity.
“I see, your resolve against mine huh?”
“Exactly. Let’s see who will crumble first!”
“*Cough!* *Cough!*, are you forgetting about my offer as well?! I won’t allow you to do that, Shin!” Sensing that the mood had changed, Elrin butted in with a sharp cry, forcing the pair to separate their hands with abashed faces.
“Of course not! Haha, what are we doing arguing about something that far off? Come, tell me stories about the academy! What happened at the coronation ceremony?”
“Haha, you asked the perfect question!!! You see, Fred confessed to Kanari for the thirty-eight time!”
“Elrin!” Kanari raised her voice in an exasperated manner. It was an issue that she wished to bury firmly into the annals of history, but there was no way that Elrin wouldn’t take this opportunity to tease her childhood friend.
“Fred did?! Wow, he sure is devoted.”
“But she turned him down yet again! In public no less!”
“Elrin… One more word from your mouth, and I’ll sever your head from your body!”
“Eeek! Save me, Shin!” As Kanari raised her mana to create a Kumiho claw on her right hand, Elrin sensed a tremendous threat to her life and jumped towards the only safe place in the room, behind Shin.
“Hahahaha, forgive her Kanari, for she had sinned.”
“I’ll deliver her from evil…”
“Eeek! Saveeee meeee~.”
“HAHAHAHA!!!” Their group teased one another like they usually did, bringing a warmth that was sorely lacking from Shin’s life. Bellowing out in laughter, the young black-haired boy couldn’t help but wonder what surprises would this group bring in the future.