Himmel Empire. The Capital. Imperial Army Headquarters.
Two days had passed since Shin returned to the encampment. Although he had brought back valuable information, there was no movement from those who were inside the military camp. Colonel Tychris had sent telegrams back to the Capital with the hope of getting an order to march upon Mort Bay. Alas, it was easier said than done.
When the message was received, the military high command went into turmoil. Few in the upper brass knew of the real mission that Colonel Tychris and his brigade were sent to do. Therefore, when the news broke that the Black Masks may be planning a landing mission on Mort Bay, many didn’t take the news happily.
“The joint training session at the Land of Dreams was a disguise to investigate into a Black Mask operation?! Why is it that this is my first time hearing about this?” A sinewy man slapped his hand on the table as he bellowed out in anger.
To discuss on what was the right course of actions to take, all of the available top brass of the Imperial Army gathered. One false step could start the fuse on a potential war with the Kori Federation, which meant that everything had to be treated with due diligence.
“Brigadier General Lasgeor, we had to be discrete about the operation. Furthermore, we made additional efforts not to implicate the children of Imperius Academy.” One of the commanding officers calmly replied. “Not to mention, they are under strict orders not to enter direct combat.”
“Nonetheless, you still placed minors at risk.” Colonel Frithron, who had remained silent behind of Gaji, finally spoke out. Even though his son, Danroy, wasn’t part of the excursion, who knew if the military would give out a similar order in the future. Just the thought of having his son fight in a place where he couldn’t reach, made the seasoned colonel shiver. “I can’t condone your logic, so I’ll be lodging a formal complaint to the Imperial Courts.”
“Do what you must, but right now, we have more pressing matters to attend to.” The head commander coldly brushed away Colonel Nathan Frithron’s protest. “The Black Masks are headed towards Mort Bay. Colonel Tychris had informed the Sword Tyrant Jimga of their actions, but it seems that they are still under the impression that we’re lying to them for our own benefit. Instead of fortifying Mort Bay, they have increased the surveillance on our brigade at the Land of Dreams.”
“Classic Dalgeom Sect shenanigans.” Another general lit up his cigar and puffed out a cloud of smoke. “They’re always thinking that we’re trying to one-up them.”
“No matter what, they’re still part of the Master Sects. If we show an openly aggressive attitude, the Kori Federation would undoubtedly think that we’re targeting them. One thing leads to another, and we’re in open war. That’s the situation that everyone doesn’t want to see.” Gaji interjected. Even though he was pissed that the high command actually used students as a diversion, to be part of the upper brass, he had to have a certain degree of rationality.
“Why don’t we pull back the brigade in the Land of Dreams? As a measure of good faith to the Dalgeom Sect?” Another general suggested.
“Not yet… The brigade can stay in the Land of Dreams for another week or so based on our agreement, so it’s best that we make full use of it. If the sources are correct and the Black Masks are planning an invasion by the sea, we need an emergency response team near the Main Hub, so that we can evacuate our citizens in the area.” The commander argued. “Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Black Masks would strike within that week, so we have to create a new task force that can move at a moment’s notice. I suggest using a division from the Second Army. What do you think?”
“A division?! If we march that many troops into the Land of Dreams, what would the other two superpowers think?” Gaji hollered out. “Additionally, can we really trust the information about Mort Bay, what if we’re all wrong? Won’t moving that many troops to the border pose as a blatant sign of aggression?”
Whispers broke out between all of the men in the command room. They were all veteran fighters that knew what precedes violence. If the information was accurate and the Black Masks had indeed planned an invasion via Mort Bay, then it was all good. However, if there were no invasion, the world would assume that the Himmel Empire wanted to launch a full takeover of the Land of Dreams, bringing condemnation from all fronts.
“The information we have is accurate. I assure you that.” Not willing to divulge where he got the data, the commander sharply retorted. “Let me remind you, each passing moment we stay here indecisive, is an opportunity for the Black Masks to advance their plans.”
“…” The commanding officers all started to talk among themselves. They had notified the Dalgeom Sect about the impending doom, and yet that Master Sect firmly believed that the Imperial Army was out to sabotage their plans.
“Let’s do it…” The General of the Second Army sighed. Of all the men present, he was the one with the highest authority. “Order Colonel Tychris’ brigade to stand down and cease all activities. We will gather a division from my army, at the same time, we should inform the Lantis Republic to observe the sea routes towards Mort Bay. If we declare all of our intentions beforehand, we would at the very least prevent alarming our allies.”
“Bringing in the Lantis Republic as well…” The commander frowned. With their actions, the world might experience yet another conflict. Did they really want to bring in another superpower into the mess?
“That sounds much more logical…” However, not everybody shared the commander’s concerns. Gaji and Nathan both nodded their heads, agreeing with the Second Army’s General.
“Good. Let’s run this by the Imperial Courts then.”
“Damn it! Those Himmel bastards!!!” A scornful cry echoed through the darkness of night, scaring away all of the nocturnal animals that came out to play. “We were almost there!!!”
A Black Mask commander, wearing the ensign of a golden tree, was busy venting out his frustrations. Before him, a legion of Black Masks had their hands behind their backs with nervousness. Even though their eyes were hidden, based on their trembling, one could tell that they weren’t in the most comfortable of positions. However, there was just one individual that dared to brave the wrath of their mighty leader.
“Sir Brahmin, our plan has not failed yet!” A viridian-haired handsome youth stood forward.
“Junius! You’re our liaison with the mercenaries! How have you not caught wind of this sooner?!” Immediately trying to pin the blame onto anyone, the emotional Brahmin glared at the young man that dared to stand in his path.
“With all due respect, Sir Brahmin… Nobody could have anticipated them discovering Mort Bay so quickly.” Although Junius’ words seemed calm, internally, he was baffled. He was sure that they weeded out all of the bad apples from the bunch, making their information flow airtight. Not to mention, they made extra precautions to never reveal their position. Yet, a day ago, the information network of the Black Masks caught wind that the Himmel Empire was planning to move a division to the border of the Land of Dreams, potentially compromising their overall operation.
“Tskkk, I know…” The Brahmin clicked his tongue and fell onto his chair. “However, we can’t just leave it at that. We need to find a way to complete this mission!”
The Mort Bay landing was a direct order by the Allfather, making it impossible to abandon. After lying low for a couple of years, the invasion of the Land of the Dreams would be the comeback that the Black Masks sorely needed. Furthermore, they needed to move the thousands of Spirit Beasts that they had into the Kori Federation so that they could begin their operations in the land.
“Sir Brahmin, if I may interject…” Junius cautiously spoke.
“The reason why we have been this slow is due to our commitment of being discrete. Now that we have lost the element of surprise, why don’t we just go at it head-on?” Junius let out a sinister grin. “The infrastructure we had built in Mort Bay has been completed. The path towards the Kori Federation had been cleared by the Dalgeom Sect. All that’s left is the movement of our forces.”
“What are you getting at, Junius?” The Brahmin tapped on his chair impatiently.
“Remember how well our attack on Aldrich’s Keep worked?” Junius took in a deep breath as his eyes began to shine with evil. Those who knew him started to back off slowly while the Brahmin in front of him unconsciously gulped. Even though Junius was at a much lower cultivation level, the Brahmin felt a little apprehension when dealing with this maniacal youth. “Let’s bring in Tier 9 Spirit Beasts again…”
The Land of Dreams. Imperius Academy Encampment. Three days later.
In a blink of an eye, the month-long joint training session that Imperius Academy had participated in was nearly at its end. For the students in the encampment, their hell was finally over, and they could return to the safety of their homes. Many who had significant others waiting for them back in the Capital hurriedly wrote letters informing their loved ones of the date of their return. Some even had their bags fully packed up, eagerly waiting for the day in which the order to march home came.
While others were celebrating the end of the joint training exercise, three individuals all wore solemn faces. Shin, Elrin and Isadore, the three sophomores that had gone out of their way to enter the joint training session, was about to leave the Land of Dreams empty-handed.
Isadore had to pull all of his resources and connections to get the spots he wanted. Elrin had to convince her overprotective father that it was a good idea to come, and worst of all… Shin had to see Junius, the person he wanted to capture the most, escape right before his eyes. It was no wonder that the trio was gloomy about their whole situation.
“In a few more days, we will be returning to the academy…” Elrin was the first to break the silence.
“I know…” Shin sighed. Since they were grounded, the trio had no viable means of investigating the Black Masks anymore. They spent their days rotting away in the cabins where they were confined, praying for a miracle to occur. “By now, Junius must have escaped far away from Mort Bay… I probably won’t be able to meet him again.”
“Don’t say that…” Isadore sat next to his friend and tapped his bony shoulders. “There will always be another chance. Justice will prevail.”
“Justice, huh?” Shin muttered to himself.
‘I wonder which God or Immortal is in charge of that in the heavens above? Whoever they are, they’re doing a terrible job.’ Shin cursed the deities that lived in the realm above the sky. If justice were real, Junius and the Allfather would have been brought in a thousand times over by now.
“Yeah, Shin. There’s always next time.” Unaware of the negative feelings that Shin was currently experiencing, Elrin gave the youth a warm smile. “At least we have taken the first step in the fight against the Black Masks. Since you have found the information about Mort Bay, the upper brass has been moving to combat the issue.”
Shin’s dream was to start an organisation that could combat the Black Mask syndicate. For that to happen, Shin had to show that he had the resources and the expertise to trace or fight against the mighty crime organisation. With this win in the bag for him, Shin was one step closer to realising his ultimate goal.
“Maybe… But I still can’t wash away the bitter taste in my mouth…” Shin grumbled. “We could have done much more, if not for the Imperial Army’s way of doing things…”
“I know. Next time, we’ll be more prepared.” Isadore repeated his consolation words as if he were a broken record. Unfortunately, at this point in time, no words were able to reach Shin.
“When we get back, why don’t I treat you to a…”
“DING!!! DING!!! DING!!! DING!!!” Before Isadore could complete his sentence, a loud siren rung through the encampment.
“What’s going on?” Shin abruptly stood from his chair and ran out of his tent. Likewise, Elrin and Isadore entered into a combative state and followed him straight out.
At the sound of the sirens, the seasoned soldiers all ran to their positions like a well-oiled machine, while the students were all caught in a state of disarray. However, even though they were confused, they showed that their training didn’t go to waste by forming rows, waiting for the next course of action.
“Shin! Elrin! Isadore! There you are!” A few minutes after the first siren rang, a panting middle-aged, bespectacled woman came running in the trio’s direction. Bending down to take a deep breath, Madam Warulee’s eyes quivered with worry. “We have to evacuate immediately!!!”
“What’s going on?”
“A beast horde! There’s a beast horde entering the Main Hub!” Madam Warulee explained. “The brigade was ordered to facilitate the quick evacuation of all civilians and students in the area! We can’t remain here anymore!”
Hearing the worried woman’s words, Shin immediately got flashbacks to the time where he lived in Aldrich’s Keep. Based on the modus operandi of the Black Masks, the beast horde was just the beginning. They would send high-level executives from their bases to tie down the leaders in the Main Hub, all while the beasts below wreak havoc all over the place, and if it really was a repeat of Aldrich’s Keep…
“Was there a laser?! Or any signs of a Tier 9 Spirit Beast?!” Shin frantically questioned.
“Laser? Tier 9? What are you talking about?”
“Tch, Madam Warulee! Let me meet the Colonel, please! I have information about how the Black Masks might operate from now on!”
“…” Madam Warulee hesitated. Her mission was the safe withdrawal of Shin and his friends from the Land of Dreams. Was it truly right to bring him into the thick of the action once more?
“Please, Madam Warulee! I can help identify the Black Masks actions! Also, I know where their base at Mort Bay is at! We can help in this fight! Do you want the Land of Dreams to suffer the same fate as Aldrich’s Keep?!” Shin kept on convincing the reluctant woman.
“Fine, fine! Follow me…”
Doing a silent victory pose, Shin felt his heart pumping louder as he finally gained a cause to fight once more.
‘Junius… Just you wait!!!’