A week had passed since Shin and his group started their hunt for information on the Black Masks. Using careful precision planning, the trio had juggled their duties in the supply lines and taking time off to explore for clues. Through the help of their trusted chaperone and Major in the military, the group had the most carefree life among all of the students in the encampment. Moving through zones that were usually forbidden, Shin was able to smoothly escape the barracks or resupply himself with provisions.
Throughout the week, Shin, Isadore and Elrin visited five out of the thirteen locations that they found suspicious. Unfortunately, every single one of their searches thus far had yielded fruitless results. They had even gone to one of the furthest locations marked on the map, which was more than a hundred kilometres away but were unable to find even a single clue about the Black Masks. Though they still had eight more locations to scour, even Shin couldn’t help but think that it would be a useless endeavour.
Nonetheless, since they had come all the way to the Land of Dreams, the group didn’t want to waste this opportunity. In her free time, Elrin moved to find out all of the significant players that influenced the enigmatic nation and which merchants were the best business partners for the Zedcris Conglomerate. Eventually, the family business would be handed down to her and Elrin must have a firm understanding of how the global economic climate worked.
On the other hand, Isadore would spend his downtime observing how the military worked from the bottom. From analysing the martial art drills that were passed on from the instructors to thoroughly understanding how the hierarchy worked. The silver-haired youth would often chat with some of the troopers that were barely even Spirit Apostles to perceive how the lower-class lived.
Often times, when Shin had nothing to do, he would sit in on Isadore’s random chats as well. There were even instances where he would come across a face that he had met on Aldrich’s Keep, and he would start conversing with them for hours. Shin’s hate of the military was directly rubbed off from his Master, Lady Seph. However, as he interacted with the men on the ground, his resentment begun to dissipate as he started to see the everyday military men as normal human beings that were just trying to make a living. Naturally, the same couldn’t be said for the heads of state that had no regard on the well-being of their men, but Shin wasn’t interested in delving deeper into that rabbit hole.
Under no circumstances could Shin imagine himself volunteering for the army, but he had nothing against the ordinary soldier that joined the military. Unknowingly, the youth’s short stay in the joint training exercise had opened his eyes slightly to the reality of what it really was like to become a soldier for the Himmel Empire.
As a new day dawned on the encampment, the azure blue sky was accompanied by the chilling mist that morning brought. Where regular people were stilled comfortably tucked in bed, Shin and Isadore could be seen sitting in on the daily physical training, monitoring the fitness levels of the soldiers from the side.
Continuously repeating the same movements over and over, the military men were training their bodies to be in optimal conditions in the event of a devastating battle. Watching on with marvel in his eyes, Shin commented to his friend: “How are they not bored of doing the same things every morning?”
As much as he was a training junkie, Shin would never continuously repeat the same exercise thousands of times, to prevent himself from losing his mind. Yet, the soldiers that were participating in the morning exercise had been doing the exact same routine as they always did, not bothered in the slightest.
“The soldiers here aren’t cultivators from any significant background, and they don’t have any specific training requirements. Thus, the army teaches them these few martial art skills to protect themselves.” Isadore patiently explained, his face turning sour as he deeply stared at the dozens of men in the field. “Of course, these are the basics of the basics, and if they advance through the ranks, they would be treated better, but otherwise… This is their life.”
“This is their life, huh?” Shin tucked his knees into his chest as he realised how fortunate he truly was. In an alternate reality, where the Frie Clan never picked up the orphans and left them to fend for themselves, would he be in the soldiers’ position?
‘In the end, everyone plays with the cards they are given at birth… I am lucky that I have a better hand than most… So I really should treasure it…’ The black-haired youth mentally firmed his resolve to grow even faster.
“By the way, where are you thinking of going today?” With a bitter smile, Isadore changed the topic. “If it’s far, we will have to wake Elrin up a little early.”
“Hah… It’s not that far… Isadore, would you let me be selfish today?”
“What do you mean?” The silver-haired boy asked.
“Among the thirteen locations, there’s one that I really want to visit. Not because of the possibility of encountering a Black Mask clue, but because of my own selfish cultivation reasons.”
“Hoho…” Isadore grinned.
“You see, I never visited a sea before, let alone an ocean… As someone who awakened The Sovereign Koi, that’s preposterous, don’t you think?”
“You mean…” Finally realising where Shin wished to go next, Isadore made an inquisitive gesture.
“Yeah…” Shin slapped his thighs and got to his feet. Beaming with a resolute expression, Shin took in a deep breath as he savoured the scent of the fragrant morning dew. “Let’s go to Mort Bay today!”
The Land Of Dreams. The Kori Federation Embassy.
When Spirit Immortal Dream annihilated her entire country’s population and ascended to the heavens above, she left behind an empty plot of land that was located on prime soil. However, as much as the three superpowers were tempted to take over that area for themselves, no one wanted to launch a war to claim a cursed land. Hence, they came up with a compromise.
Firstly, a Main Hub would be constructed where the Capital of the Land of Dreams once stood. There, all forms of diplomacy would be conducted as their diplomats would congregate to negotiate on how to rule the area. Secondly, all known resources of the land would be divided equally among the three, and any treasures that were unearthed would remain the sole proprietary of the discoverer. Finally, each and every prime area would be sold to the highest bidder among the three.
Through the bidding system, the Himmel Empire claimed thirty-five percent of the land, with the majority of them being areas that were on the outskirts of their border. The Lantis Republic claimed almost all of the coastlines and ports, which amounted to twenty percent of the fallen nation.
As for the Kori Federation, they took the largest piece and claimed the remainder, making them the de facto ‘majority shareholder’ of the Land of Dreams. Of course, since the Kori Federation was formed out of hundreds of organisations, there was no shortage of internal disputes on who got to claim the mineral-abundant region for themselves.
Of course, those from the Master Sects got the most say on how the resources were distributed, but there was one Master Sect that got particularly rowdy about handling the matter of the Land of Dreams for themselves.
“Highness Jimga, we have been expecting you.”
Inside of the intricately decorated embassy, a suave middle-aged man, dressed in an ivory-coloured robe, strolled in with an entourage of younger disciples. On his back, he carried a sheathed war sword that was about eighty centimetres long, and the teenagers that followed him had similar blades as well. Each one of them looking fiercer than the other, only the middle-aged man at the front of the group seemed to be unable to harm a fly. In fact, if not for the glaring sword on his back, one might assume that he was a peace-loving scholar.
The moment the receptionist saw the new entrants, he immediately dropped his pen and gave the senior a deep bow. At the same time, from his position, he could carefully observe the infamous jade piece that hung from the white-robed swordsman belt.
With a symbol of the crescent moon and two dazzling stars carved onto it, the swordmaster was bearing the emblem of perhaps the most famous sword faction in the entire world. The Dalgeom Sect.
Accepting anyone that awakened a sword Spirit, the Dalgeom Sect was one of the thirty Master Sects of the Kori Federation and their sword martial skills was feared throughout the entire world. Legend has it that during the war to end all wars, a Rank 79 Spirit Emperor from the Dalgeom Sect once fought two Spirit Venerates to a standstill, using nothing but the sect’s legacy swordplay, the Dance of the Moon.
Consisting of more than a hundred thousand living disciples, and with two Spirit Venerates guarding its helm, there was no question that the Dalgeom Sect was a force that could voice its opinion on the international stage.
“Mmmm…” The white-robed man indifferently responded to the receptionist warm welcome before turning to his students. “You can disperse now. This next meeting will take some time. Go enjoy yourself on the streets.”
“Yes, Master!!!” The students replied in unison with a respectful bow.
“Lead the way.” The swordmaster didn’t bother with any pleasantries as he ordered the receptionist to take him to his destination.
“Yes, Highness Jimga!”
Unwilling to cross the mighty cultivator that could easily behead him with one stroke, the receptionist quickly showed the white-robed man up the stairs and into an isolated chamber where his host awaited.
“Hmmm?” As the doors to the chambers slid open, the two individuals inside let out a low murmur. However, the moment they saw the white-robed swordmaster, their faces broke out into smiles. “Jimga! You’re finally here!”
“Pardon my tardiness.” The white-robed swordmaster returned their kind gestures with a bitter smile. “I was caught up with some issues.”
“Haha, you can say that again! We’ve been waiting for you for ages!” The female member groaned. At her side, a plain sheathed sword was laid out on the table, ready for her to draw at any moment. Likewise, the other two men in the room all had their swords kept safely near them, so that they could defend themselves should the need arises.
“She’s joking. We’ve only been here for twenty minutes.”
“Senior Brother Wangu! Must you really be such a spoilsport?!”
“Yeunghi… It’s not good to lie. Your nose will grow.”
“Are you treating me like a child?!” The female swordmaiden cried out.
Taking a seat on the nearest empty chair, the white-robed swordmaster made himself comfortable before turning to the receptionist to the door. “You may excuse yourself.”
“Understood, Highness Jimga.” Rapidly turning his feet around, the receptionist gently sealed the door before shuffling away.
“What did you do to that poor boy? He’s terrified of you.” The female swordmaiden laughed.
“Nothing, Jimga’s reputation precedes him, that’s all.”
“Surely, you jest, Senior Brother Wangu.” Even though he denied his senior brother’s claim, deep down, the swordmaster named Jimga knew that his notoriety was the reason for the receptionist’s apprehension. “We can discuss my exploits outside at length later on. What’s important are the sect matters.”
“There it is! The infamous no-bullshit Jimga!” Yeunghi giggled. Her playful demeanour forced the eldest of the bunch to send a karate chop to her head.
“Jimga is right. We have to settle the matters regarding the Lantis Republic and Himmel Empire.” Senior Brother Wangu sighed. As much as he wished to enjoy his time out of the sect, he had to focus on his mission at hand. “Did the representative from the empire tell you why they’re performing their joint training exercise in the Land of Dreams?”
“No, they’re still tight-lipped.” Jimga shook his head. “They’re still trying to feed us the bullshit story about investigating about the Black Masks… Hmph! That criminal organisation is their problem! Why would they come to our shores and threaten us! I’m sure that the Himmel Empire is gearing up for an impending battle with us, so they’re doing this ‘training exercise’ in preparation for that!”
“Black Masks, huh…” Senior Brother Wangu stroked his grey beard. “That name is being thrown around quite a bit lately… The Healer’s Association Saint Althea, and the Himmel Empire’s Sovereign Emperor, Tenno, have been saying that the Black Masks are a threat that has to be neutralised…”
“Utter bull in my opinion.” Jimga venomously spat out. “They’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes. A leader stronger than a Spirit Saint? If that were true, our entire continent would have been plunged into chaos.”
“Hmmm, you’re right…”
Even though the Himmel Empire and the Healer’s Association had been rather vocal about the Black Masks, the rest of the world treated their words as a joke. They all thought that it was a false claim brought up by the Himmel Empire to mask their more nefarious desires.
“If that’s the case, we can only observe the Himmel Empire’s encampment for now… I assume that you have eyes on them?”
“Naturally! My disciples have been monitoring them in shifts.”
“Good… Alright, let’s get to the real issue at hand.” Senior Brother Wangu turned to the woman seated next to him and nodded his head. “How’s Mort Bay?”
“The Lantis Republic has kept true to their promise. They removed their men from the area quite swiftly. Well, not like there were many, to begin with…” The swordmaiden shrugged her shoulders. “Our disciples can move in within the next few months. However, trying to change the bay into a pier would prove to be quite the challenge. It’s mostly made of slippery cliffs after all.”
“Even if it’s difficult, we have to do it. Once Mort Bay has been transformed, we would have a direct route through the Land of Dreams, giving us another passage to transport supplies to our sect!”
With the Lantis Republic in control of most of the ports and coasts in the Land of Dreams, it would be troublesome for the Dalgeom Sect to covertly transport valuables to and fro the Kori Federation. Hence, they made the tough decision to purchase Mort Bay from the hands of the Lantis Republic.
“It might be a tedious task, but we will reap the rewards in the long run!”
“I know, I know…” The swordmaiden chuckled at the seriousness of her senior brother before turning to glance out of the window. The playfulness that she had displayed earlier had disappeared, and in its place, a serious poise manifested itself. “I will ensure that nothing happens under my watch…”