Pitter Patter. Pitter Patter.
Bright, sweet raindrops fell in the millions unto the rocky surfaces of the coastline, turning the beautiful morning into a patch of grey skies. Thousands of pulsating ripples formed on the surface of the deep bay water as the entrance to the attached seas were rife with massive waves which rose and fell in rhythm. Effervescence arose to the already choppy waters, making the bay a completely uninhabitable arena for all life forms to be in. For cultivators like Isadore and Elrin, who were land creatures through and through, being near the bay was akin to that of braving armageddon. Fearing that they may accidentally slip on one of the lubricated rocks, the duo moved as far away from the edge as possible.
While his friends were apprehensive about even standing close to the dangerous waters, Shin was utterly in awe. A child of water, the black-haired youth was susceptible to water elements, and as he was facing a bay that led to the sea, Shin’s face flushed in pure joy.
All his life, Shin had been cooped up on land. Frie Mountain. Chilyoja Waypoint. Aldrich’s Keep. The Capital. None of them was close to any large bodies of water. Yes, he had visited a few lakes and rivers in his day, but he had never had an intimate experience with the true divinity of water… Shin had never been to the ocean.
Although the bay may not have been a good substitute for the great beyond, it gave the youth a glimpse into how the elements would be like in the deep blue. And it was intoxicating.
Almost at the very same moment that Shin first caught sight of the bay, The Sovereign Koi made its appearance and circled about in jubilation. According to legends, the Lady of Water, who was the first cultivator to ever contract with a water Spirit, gave birth to eight children. Besides her, they were the absolute royalty of water elements. Hence, it came as no surprise that the Eight Scions of Water loved to frolic around the oceans.
“Shin, it’s dangerous over there! Come back!” Elrin beckoned to her friend from the safety of a nearby tree.
Unfortunately for Elrin, her words fell on deaf ear. Sheets of grey raindrops fell from the heavens, blurring the image of Shin and his jubilant Spirit. Staring deep into the azure abyss, Shin felt his soul being compelled to dive down. A call from the beyond, as one might call it. However, before he could take the final plunge, Shin recalled the true reason why he came to Mort Bay.
‘What am I doing? I should be looking for clues! I shouldn’t be distracted!’ Shin mentally chided himself. He was the one that wanted to combat the Black Masks, and yet, he had allowed his mind to wander off track. With a face full of reluctance, Shin leapt back from the steep cliff and returned to his worried friends.
“Sorry, I got lost in the moment.”
“No, it’s understandable.” Instead of blaming Shin, Isadore let out a weak smile. “As someone who awakened The Sovereign Koi, I’m sure the call from the oceans is something that’s hard to resist.”
“Yeah…” Shin bit his lip as his eyes turned muddied. “I have a selfish request… Once we clear this area, could you spare me one or two hours? I want to try cultivating here.”
“Sure thing! Are you fine with that Elrin?” Isadore asked the last remaining member.
“Hmmm, I guess that’s okay… But help us find some sort of shelter first! I don’t want to be standing here in the pouring rain for too long!” The girl playfully smiled before showing an indignant reaction. Although all three of them had donned on a raincoat that had been enchanted, it was still an uncomfortable feeling to stay unsheltered in the pouring deluge.
After a horde of misses without the slightest clue about the Black Masks, Shin and the group unconsciously believed that they won’t be able to find out anything from Mort Bay. Nonetheless, they still proceeded with caution. From their intelligence, Mort Bay was under Lantis Republic rule. However, due to its turbulent weather and uninhabitable terrain, it was largely neglected, with the Lantis Republic only devoting a squadron of less than a dozen men to guard the bay.
If the Black Masks wished to smuggle anything into the Land of Dreams, Mort Bay was perhaps the best location to execute their plans. Thus, even if the place looked to be completely barren, Shin knew that he had to be vigilant.
With their mana signatures concealed, the group cautiously scoured through the entire area. Thankfully, it wasn’t long until they came across their first find.
“A watch-house… It must be from the Lantis Republic.”
“It looks completely empty though… Even the door is unlocked.”
Isadore and Shin shared their opinion. The house was made out of aged brick that had already formed irreversible cracks. Even though it was raining cats and dogs, there was no light from the interior, and adding to the fact that the door was unlocked, it was safe to assume that they had stumbled upon a deserted structure.
“Elrin, your sensitivity to mana is the highest. Could you do a probe?” Shin looked back at his friend.
“What am I, a metal detector?” The girl teased.
“You know that’s not the case.” Shin giggled. “If there’s no one inhabiting that area, you would obtain the shelter that you wanted.”
“Yeah, yeah…” After a light back and forth, the white-haired girl finally closed her eyes and carefully probed the abandoned watch-house. In her hands, a spiritual tool that was shaped in the shape of a compass gleamed in a faint light as the mana being supplied to it intensified. Only after a few gruelling minutes, did Elrin stop her probe.
“There’s nothing there. Not even residue mana signatures.”
“That’s good. We can use that as a temporary base while we wait for the rain to stop.” Taking off his backpack, Isadore promptly marched into the deserted building to hide from the rain. As much as they wished to continue their search, the poor visibility made it doubly hard for them to conduct a comprehensive examination.
As the trio settled, Shin and Isadore brushed the watch-house for clues. Unfortunately, the cold building had been completely emptied out. The walls had been scrubbed clean, and the rooms had been drained of its contents. Surprisingly, there weren’t many cobwebs in the area, and the structure hasn’t been wholly returned to nature.
“It must have been abandoned quite recently… Unless someone came to clean it.” Shin muttered out. “Either way, we can stay here for a while… It looks like the rain won’t stop anytime soon. The two of you should take a break and eat something.”
The trio had left their encampment at about eight in the morning. Since they took about three hours to get to Mort Bay, they could rest and eat an early lunch. Of course, Shin wasn’t about to put himself into that equation.
“Hoho, you’re really obsessed with the sea huh?”
“I’m sorry, guys…” Shin let out a bitter laugh at how his friends managed to see right through him. Since they weren’t able to conduct a search, Shin wanted to take this opportunity to quell his curiosity. “Give me an hour or two! I’ll be right back!”
“What are we to do with you?” Isadore shook his head while he watched the disappearing image of his friend.
“…” At the other corner of the abandoned house, Elrin had her eyes focused on the silver-haired youth. Now that the two were alone, she could finally speak of matters that had been bothering her for quite some time. “Isadore… May I ask you a few questions?”
“Why are you helping Shin?”
“What do you mean?” Isadore played the fool. He knew what the girl was implying, but he just didn’t dare to admit it so openly yet. “What’s wrong with me helping a good friend?”
“Isadore… No, Highness Isadore.” Immediately changing her posture, the young girl lost the tone of playfulness that she was renowned for. “You should know better than anyone that Shin has a unique position in the Himmel Empire. He’s a citizen of the Empire, and yet he’s a descendant of the Lantis Republic. He’s a disciple of Lady Seph, and at the same time, he’s the heir of the denounced Awter Clan. With so many contradictions to his name, High Society is at a loss of how they should manage him.”
Elrin’s tone turned respectful. “For Kanari and I, we want him to join our organisations because we value his future potential. That’s clear for all to see. However, your position must be completely neutral. The hidden spear of the Empire must remain in the shadows, not engaging in any form of politics. I’m sure the Imperial Ancestor has taught you that.”
“That’s the problem…” A dark resonance flowed out of Isadore’s vocal cords, stunning the words out of the eloquent Elrin. Raising his right hand, the silver-haired youth summoned out his trusted spear and stroked the thick chains on its shaft with despondent eyes. “I didn’t choose this life. I don’t want to be shackled to the same fate as my predecessors. I want to be my own person. I want to live out my own dreams.”
Elrin shuddered. If Isadore’s words were to get out, the upper echelons of High Society would be thrown into absolute turmoil. “Highness Isadore, what is your dream then?”
“To lead the world’s finest information network! One that surpasses Spion!” The youth declared without hesitation. “And for some reason, I feel that helping Shin would be the way for me to claim that dream.”
“You believe in him that much?”
“Hehe, aren’t you on the same boat?”
“…” Elrin closed her mouth.
“Unknowingly, both of us had become attached to Shin… Even Kanari is caught under his spell. Of course, the one that is attached to Shin the most is Shizen!” Isadore laughed. “When I look at Shin, I can’t help but imagine seeing the next Hero that would define his generation. I’m sure you feel the same.”
“Hah… There’s no beating your eyesight, Highness Isadore.” Elrin raised her hands in defeat. “Forget that I ever asked that stupid question then.”
Elrin took out a ration bar from Shin’s backpack and munched happily on it. With the big question out of the way, the white-haired scion could finally rest easy and make way for idle talk. “If you don’t mind, could you tell me more about the Imperial Palace?”
“Hey, hey… That’s classified!”
“Hmph, you’re so stingy! Whatever, I’ll find out for myself then!”
While his partners were busy bickering, Shin was standing on top of a steep rocky cliff, overseeing the entirety of Mort Bay. In his hands, The Sovereign Koi was spinning around in circles, like a dog chasing its tail in excitement. The corners of his lips rose in anticipation as the mana within his body started to bubble out.
“Eight Scions of Water… Mark of the Celestial Dragon… All these titles don’t matter to me.” Shin whispered. The entirety of his soul felt refreshed as the water elements desperately rushed into his body. Unconsciously, the youth cast his spiritual body enhancement and allowed his skin to be covered with thick cerulean scales. “All that matters… Is that I belong here.”
Turning into a merman, Shin felt his connection with mother ocean deepen. At the same time, The Sovereign Koi returned into his body with a poof and further boosted the youth’s sensitivity to the water elements that surrounded him. Deep within his soul, Shin could hear hisses of temptation, as if they were whispers of the devil.
And finally… He jumped.
Diving down into the bay below, Shin entered the water with a big splash. Like a fish that returned to the sea, Shin felt like he had arrived at his rightful home. His eyes pierced through the darkness of the basin, allowing him to have a firm glimpse of all the ocean life in the area. Fishes, squids, crabs and even Spirit Beasts of all shapes and sizes swam about the basin freely.
A world that he had never imagined. Oddly enough, he didn’t have any trouble moving about, and he had no trouble breathing even though he was a few metres below the surface. Diving further down, Shin felt the pressure mounting on his body. However, he didn’t care about that. He wanted to explore the alien environment, he wanted to know more about the ocean. It was only after descending until the light dimmed completely, did the youth stop.
‘This is the lake… This is the sea… This is the ocean… This is water…’ Shin mentally chanted verses from the Celestial Water Mantra. At this depth, the water elements that surrounded him were immense, giving him the perfect opportunity to cultivate.
Greedily absorbing all of the water elements that he could, Shin felt his entire being heat up. His skin flushed red, and his blood started to boil. In his Spirit Core, a vortex of energy emerged and sucked in all of the spiritual energy that Shin was supplying it. Bit by bit, Shin’s mana reserves increased.
On the exterior, Shin used the water pressure that surrounded him to mould his body into a more perfect shape. Shin already boasted a slender figure, but with the added pressure, he could cast it into a more streamlined shape. Allowing the mana to seep into his bones, Shin’s entire essence was being reforged, until eventually…
His mana burst forth like an explosion, and his body rapidly ascended to the surface. Using the momentum of the eruption, Shin leapt out of the bay water and landed right on the cliff where he jumped off. Opening his eyes, Shin summoned out The Sovereign Koi, who was in a jovial, celebratory mode.
“Just like that, I advanced…” Shin sighed. Based on that one cultivation session, the youth had leapt from Rank 23 to Rank 24. Naturally, there was a reason why his advancement this time proceeded with relative ease. It was his first time near the ocean. That was truly it. Slowly, as he became more accustomed to the water elements that the ocean emitted, his rate of improvement would start to normalise.
“The environment really is essential when it comes to cultivation… When I get back to the academy, I must find a way to cultivate near the ocean…”
Reluctantly, Shin took a step away from the cliff. As much as he wished to cultivate here all day, he had a more important task to accomplish.
“I’ll be back here soon…”