Colonel Tychris fervently listened to Shin’s explanation, detailing everything that had occurred up till this point. Although Shin left out key details, such as Isadore’s true identity and how he obtained the information that the Black Masks were at the Land of Dreams, he described as much as he could divulge. From how he was taken by the Black Masks a few years ago, to how he conducted the investigation from the shadows. Of course, with Elrin’s identity as the Zedcris Conglomerate heir and his own status as Lady Seph’s disciple, Shin was able to convince the Colonel that his claims weren’t just a student’s fantasy ramble.
“The reason why you’re so sure that the Black Masks are at Mort Bay is due to this Junius boy?” Colonel Tychris rubbed the bridge of his nose as he weakly asked.
“Yes! I’m positive that Junius has joined the Black Masks! That’s why we have to act quickly and secure Mort Bay!” As much as it seemed implausible, Shin held on to the hope that Junius would stay still on Mort Bay. After watching Ariel die before his eyes, Shin swore to bring his delusional brother to justice and right now, there was a prime clue about Junius whereabouts. It took Shin all he had to leave Mort Bay when he saw Junius pronouncing about right before his eyes, and there was no way he would let this chance slip.
Feeling the boy’s agitation, Colonel Tychris frowned in displeasure. He could tell that Shin was acting on his emotions and the personal vendetta of his was in the driver’s seat of his rationality. “As much as I would like to help you, Mort Bay is out of our jurisdiction.”
“What do you mean?! Wasn’t this training exercise a front to covertly investigate the Black Masks?!” Shin’s voice started to tremble. He could tell where this conversation was going by the tone of Colonel Tychris words. “We can’t let them escape! Right now, they don’t know we’re onto them, making this the perfect opportunity to launch a surprise assault!”
“Shin Iofiel! You’re out of line!” Colonel Tychris slammed his palms on his desk and stood up in a fury. “As long as you’re under my encampment, you’re to obey my commands! I don’t care whatever background you have, over here, my words are the law!”
Stunned by the calm man’s shift in attitude, Shin took a step back. His eyes trembled as a sick feeling enveloped his chest. Thinking back to his earlier actions, Shin realised that he did sound a little condescending.
“My apologies, Colonel… I was speaking from a low place. It won’t happen again.” After a brief session of reflection, Shin bowed down in remorse.
“Ha… It’s not I don’t understand how you feel.” Now that Shin had taken a step back, the ball was in Colonel Tychris’ court. Even he didn’t want to thoroughly offend someone of Shin’s background. “Based on the story you told me, this Junius had murdered your loved ones. I can understand your desire to seek justice. However, I’m really in no position to help you.”
“What do you mean?”
“As you may expect, we have had our own investigations into the matter of the Black Masks. We sought assistance from the superpowers present in the Land of Dreams, and for the most part, they have been cooperative. However, many organisations don’t want us sniffing in their backyard. The Dalgeom Sect is the perfect example.”
“The Dalgeom Sect? What do they have to do with this?” Madam Warulee’s eyebrows were raised as she heard the foreign name.
“They’re the Kori Federation’s current representative present in the Land of Dreams.” Colonel Tychris’ face immediately turned sour as he recollected the bitter exchange he had with Sword Tyrant Jimga. “We were warned not to even land a single foot into their territory, and it just so happens that Mort Bay is within those forbidden areas.”
“I thought Mort Bay was the property of the Lantis Republic?” Elrin exclaimed.
“You’re right… It WAS.” The colonel opened his drawer and took hold of a tightly bound piece of parchment. Untying the knot, Colonel Tychris revealed the letter and passed it around. “The Dalgeom Sect bought it off the Lantis Republic recently. It is now a part of the Kori Federation.”
“I see…” Shin was finally able to connect the dots. When he first arrived at Mort Bay, he was surprised that it was rather void of human activity, given that there was an abandoned safehouse that had clearly been occupied recently. “That’s why the Black Masks are moving in on Mort Bay! It is the most unguarded area in the Land of Dreams now! They must be planning to move something into the Land of Dreams, and they’re using Mort Bay as a landing point.”
Hearing Shin’s words, everyone in the room gasped. His conjecture was the most plausible answer for the Black Masks mysterious appearance in the Land of Dreams.
“Colonel, we must move in and secure the area! Given the Black Masks’ resources, god knows what they are capable of moving into the country! I was there when Aldrich’s Keep fell! If they move a Tier 9 Spirit Beast like the Colossal Treant or the Chimaera, the entire area will fall into ruin!!!” Shin warned the colonel. The memory of the death and destruction at Aldrich’s Keep came into his mind. The last thing that Shin wanted was a repeat of history, and he was sure that the colonel felt the same way.
“…” Unsure of how he was to process this information, Colonel Tychris sat down despondently on his chair. His orders were crystal clear. Train the students from Imperius Academy first, and investigate cautiously in the shadows. Additionally, he may be a colonel, but he had no authorisation to start a dispute with a member of the Master Sects from the Kori Federation. Turning to the one man who could validate Shin’s claim, the colonel questioned the chestnut-coloured hair healer.
“Major Escred, you were there when Aldrich’s Keep fell, what do you think? Are the Black Masks going to attack the Land of Dreams?”
“Sire, like you, this is my first time hearing about this threat from Mort Bay.” Escred turned to Shin with a little reproach, as if blaming the youth for not keeping him in the loop. “However, I trust my little brother here. If he believes that the Black Masks are attacking from Mort Bay, then I do too.”
“I see…” Colonel Tychris weighed the pros and cons in his mind. If the threat were real, he would be saving thousands of lives if he marched into Mort Bay. However, if he found nothing, a major dispute between the Himmel Empire and the Kori Federation would arise. After a full minute of contemplation, the commander finally found his answer. “No, I still can’t do it.”
“I will refer this new information to my higher-ups. At the same time, I’ll notify my contact in the Dalgeom Sect about this new threat. I will also ready a battalion to move at a moment’s notice. However, we can’t enter Mort Bay.”
The Imperial Army had a strict hierarchy. Colonel Tychris’ orders had been clear from day one, and it would take a significant overhaul from the upper brass to overturn those orders. Furthermore, the issue with the Dalgeom Sect was a delicate matter. Should it be handled carelessly, the dispute might escalate into a full-on conflict, which would, in turn, lead to a pointless war.
A war with the Kori Federation was the last thing that the Himmel Empire needed, and thus, Colonel Tychris decided to move with the Empire’s best interests in mind.
“Colonel! This is a…”
“My decision is final, Shin Iofiel.” The military man raised his left hand to interrupt the indignant Shin. “Additionally, I advise that the three of you remain on the premise.”
“Are you threatening to ground us?” Elrin menacingly growled.
“Not threatening, ordering.” Colonel Tychris lips twitched. “You’re not officially part of the training exercise, so I can’t mandate you to do any work, but as long as you’re within my encampment, I can bar you from leaving. Don’t worry, all of your daily needs and amenities will remain the same. Just sit back and relax for the rest of the week.”
“My father won’t be pleased.” The white-haired girl decided to name-drop her father as a threat.
“Do what you must. However, my decision is final.” Taking large steps towards the exit, Colonel Tychris turned the doorknob of his office’s door. “Now, would you excuse me. I have pressing matters to attend to.”
“… Thank you for your time, Colonel.” Shin grumbled as he stomped out the door. Following his lead, Isadore and Elrin left the room, all while scowling at the colonel the entire time.
“Couldn’t you have handled it better? They do have some influence behind them.” Madam Warulee sighed as she passed by the commander.
“Perhaps. But I have faith in my decision.” The colonel shrugged his shoulders. “If I were you, I would reign them in. They might be influential in the future, but they’re still too immature. Not everything revolves around them. The sooner they understand that harsh fact, the better.”
“… I’ll take your advice into consideration.”
As the room reverted back to its peaceful state, Colonel Tychris turned to the only other person left in his office. “Major Escred.”
“Tell me about the boy.” The colonel placed his hands behind his back and slowly approached the healer. Even though he wasn’t emitting any spiritual pressure, Escred felt as if a dense fog had blurred his vision and it only became muddier with each step that the colonel took.
Escred was by no means short. In fact, he was above average in height. However, at that moment, where the colonel was staring down on him, and the only thing that Escred could see was his flared nostrils, the healer felt so small.
“Tell me everything you know about Shin Iofiel…”
“Damn it!” An exasperated cry echoed out from a remote corner of the encampment. Shin, who was accompanied by his two friends, were currently venting their frustration out on a couple of straw dummies that were used for their seniors’ target practice.
Dust and dirt flew as the straw dummies started to get flattened by the rabid blows that Shin was inflicting upon it. Initially, Isadore and Elrin were egging him on, as they shared the same resentment that he did. However, the angst slowly turned into concern after ten minutes.
They had known Shin for over a year, and they knew he wasn’t one to wear his heart on his sleeve. For him to have that much anger meant that Shin had suffered a tremendous emotional blow.
“Shin! Slow down! You’re going to hurt yourself!” Isadore advised.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCKKK!!!” Punching the dummy until its head flew off, Shin finally ceased his relentless strikes. However, without a target to blow off steam on, the youth had to resort to the most primal thing a human could do. Shouting.
“Isadore… We had him! We fucking had him! Junius was standing just a few hundred metres away from me, and I let him go! I fucking let him go!!!”
“You did the right thing… If we went for him right there, we would have lost our lives.”
“What’s the point?! I came back here for reinforcements, and all I get is supervision! No wonder Master hates the army!”
Isadore knew that there was nothing that he could do to console his friend. Knowing his backstory, the silver-haired youth couldn’t even begin to imagine the grief that Shin was going through. One of the foremost goals that he had, one of the reasons why he trained so desperately to grow stronger in the academy, was to bring Junius to justice. Yet, he squandered the opportunity with faith that the military would help him, only to have it squashed all over his face.
“I fucking hate this…”
Finally collapsing onto the floor, Shin closed his eyes in an attempt to quell his vengeful heart. However, no matter how hard he tried, the image of Junius ordering the attack on Ariel’s life kept emerging, allowing the cauldron of hate that was burning inside of him to be infinitely charged.
“Shin… We will find him. It may not be today, but I swear we will.” Elrin crouched next to Shin and tried her best to console him. “Remember, we are forming an alliance to chase the Black Masks. Your paths will inevitably cross.”
“…” Shin remained silent. His screaming and violent phase had passed. Bottling up his hatred, Shin’s mind ran at a thousand kilometres an hour.
‘I can’t just stay here until we get back! I have to do something!’
Just as the trio was rolling in the mud, a fourth voice emerged from the shadows.
“Shin Iofiel, are you free to talk?”
At the mere sound of his voice, Shin’s muscles twitched. While Isadore and Elrin needed visual identification, Shin was able to recognise that deep and annoying voice anywhere on this earth. Throughout the weeks that he stayed in the encampment, a particular fifth-year senior kept seeking him out in hopes of resolving his unrequited love.
“Fred Newton… What do you want?”
“Oh, are you finally willing to talk?”
Shin had been avoiding Fred as if he were the plague due to how bothersome the issue was. Fred thought that Shin had seduced Kanari, and wished to settle the score. However, Shin had done no such thing and didn’t want to get beaten up for no good reason. Nonetheless, in this time of anger, a fight didn’t sound too bad to the Rank 24 Spirit Core cultivator.
“Yes… Let’s talk.”