As the siren intensified, the soldiers in the encampment begun to move at a far more rapid pace. Tents were dismantled within seconds and carriages were loaded in a blink of an eye. Following their military seniors’ lead, the fourth, fifth and sixth years of Imperius Academy all assisted in the clean-up, as the commanders of the encampment prepared to evacuate their men. Of course, the panic that ensued wasn’t limited to just the brigade. A few kilometres away, many from the Main Hub were also in turmoil.
Businesses that had been operating there for centuries without any peril began packing up their stuff, while the embassies in the Main Hub were contemplating on the best course of actions. Even though they had a sufficient defence force, no one knew how powerful the beast horde that was headed their way was. Additionally, they had never experienced a threat for the past hundred odd years. Some feared for the worst and immediately evacuated, while others treated it as a passing wind that would die down within the next few days. However, one thing was for sure.
The once peaceful Land of Dreams was now in a state of turbulence.
“All men to their stations! Prepare to evacuate everyone in the encampment immediately! Priority goes to the students from Imperius Academy! I don’t want any single one of the students harmed, do you hear me?!” An imposing voice bellowed through the barracks, forcing the drivers of the carriages to click their boots together and issue a solemn salute.
“Colonel Tychris, the logistics department is all packed up and ready to move!” A Major wearing healer’s robes came forward to report his situation. “Just give the order, and we can escort the students back home!”
“Major Escred… Good, your department is the fastest to get back to me. Letting you join my brigade is the best decision I’ve made recently.”
“I’m just doing my job, sire!” Escred gave the man a firm salute.
“Yeah, good job…” The Colonel frowned as he rubbed the temples of his forehead. “But still, what’s this thing about a beast horde?! Where the hell did this attack come from?”
“I think you know, sire…” Escred bitterly smiled. “Shin said that the Black Masks had secured Mort Bay. They must have sped up their operations after finding out about our movements back home. After all, having a beast horde attack first reeks of Black Mask!”
“Major Escred… Now that you mentioned it, you were there when Aldrich’s Keep fell. What do you think will happen next?”
“Unclear, sire.” Escred despondently dropped his head. “I was there on Aldrich’s Keep, but I was the Chief Healer. I couldn’t leave my post, and all that I saw were the casualties piling into my tent. Even though I was there, I was too preoccupied to care what was going on outside.”
Healer Escred clenched his fists. Each time he remembered that day, the day where thousands of bodies flowed into his camp, he couldn’t help but feel powerless.
“Then is it true…” Before he dared to ask his final question, Colonel Tychris looked far into the distance, not willing to show his trembling face to his subordinate. However, even without looking at his face, Escred could tell that his superior was genuinely shaken. “Is it true that they used Tier 9 Spirit Beasts?”
“Yes… I was inside my tent the entire time, but when the Gargantuan Treant broke through our walls… Colonel, we have no chance of winning if that monster appears.”
“I see…” Colonel Tychris gathered himself together. His mission was to protect his brigade and the students that came with it. He couldn’t lose himself in fear. “Tell everyone to double up their speed. I want to return to the Himmel Empire by the end of the day.”
Even without carefully examining the troops, one could tell that they were already moving at the fastest pace that they could. However, the Colonel wanted them to double their speed even further. If it were a normal situation, Escred would call his superior out for being unreasonable, but this wasn’t any common predicament.
“I’ll relay that down.” Giving the Colonel one more salute, Escred made an about turn and was ready to send out the orders. However, before he could even make the first step, he saw a group of younglings being accompanied by a tall, middle-aged woman, marching in their direction.
“Hmmm?” Colonel Tychris raised his eyebrows as he carefully observed the silhouettes of the four individuals headed his way.
‘Ah, it’s the troublemaker again…’ The military man cursed inwardly. All of his interactions with Shin had been nothing but trouble, and deep down, the Colonel wanted nothing to do with the young man.
“Colonel Tychris! I have something to report!” Madam Warulee cried out.
“There’s nothing to talk about. We’re all going back to the Capital, and I suggest that the four of you finish your preparations. We’re leaving within the hour.”
“Wait!!!” Shin knew that he was out of line to call out the Colonel by himself, but in this situation, he couldn’t care less about proprietary. “I can help in fighting the Black Masks! We have information about where their base is, and I can also point out two of their operatives in the Land of Dreams!”
“And what good will that do to me?” Colonel Tychris bellowed out. “We are to retreat back home, not face the oncoming threat! This conversation ends here, we’re heading back now.”
“Colonel!” Shin was absolutely frantic. It was finally his chance to show how useful he could be in the fight against the Black Masks, but due to the Colonel’s stubbornness, his efforts were about to be washed down the drain.
“I was there when Aldrich’s Keep fell! I was in the Uncharted Wilderness when the deadly laser blasted through the defences of the Guardian Rock! I personally saw the attacks by the beast horde and the two Tier 9 Spirit Beasts!” Shin was throwing all sorts of reasons at the Colonel, hoping that just one of them would resonate with the inflexible military commander. “I also know where the Black Masks are operating at Mort Bay! Please, I can help!”
“NO!!!” Unable to bear the annoyance anymore, Colonel Tychris hollered out. His veins started to show on his fair skin as his nostrils flared up in anger. “Do you honestly understand what you’re trying to accomplish?! You’re trying to jeopardise the safety of my brigade, as well as the safety of your school mates!!! So what if you know everything about the Black Masks?! My job is to bring all of you back safely, and that’s final!!!”
“Shut up! One more word from you and I’ll…”
“Hold on, Colonel.” Before the military man could make his firm refusal, a tranquil voice came out from the side.
Stunned by the newcomer, Shin, Elrin and Isadore all unconsciously grouped together. The man who emerged out from the darkness wore a full ivory-coloured robe and had his long flowing hair tied together like a bun. At his back, a handle of a sword could be seen poking out his shoulder, which seemed out of place, given his scholarly demeanour. On his waist, an emblem bearing the mark of the crescent moon with two dazzling stars carved onto it hung loosely, jingled with every step that he took.
“Sword Tyrant Jimga… I thought I told you to stay in my tent?” Colonel Tychris was displeased that his ‘guest’ had strolled out of his bounds. “You do know that not following orders in my camp could lead to disastrous results.”
“Forgive me, Colonel. It’s just quite hard to remain in a tent when it was being dismantled.” The Dalgeom Sect Spirit Emperor jokes. With all the chaos that was happening around them, no one had informed the men responsible for taking down the tents that an esteemed guest was seated right inside of the Colonel office.
“I see… I apologise for my subordinate’s lack of sense. When we return, I’ll make sure to punish them accordingly.”
“Don’t worry about that. I understand the hardships of managing thousands of men, especially in a time of peril such as this.” Sword Tyrant Jimga chuckled. “There’s no need to bother about the mistakes made by frantic soldiers.”
“I’m glad that you feel that way…” Sensing that the Dalgeom Sect Spirit Emperor was about to request for something ludicrous, Colonel Tychris opted to chase him out as soon as possible. “I apologise for the commotion, but as you can see we’re currently swamped with work. I won’t be able to continue our fruitful conversation anymore, I hope you won’t take offence.”
“Haha, no worries! Thank you for hosting me at such short notice.” Sword Tyrant Jimga’s face was smiling, and he seemed like an amiable person all around. However, internally, Colonel Tychris’ heart was pumping like mad. He just hoped that the man would leave his encampment without demanding anything.
“Alright, I won’t see you out!”
“Wait… Colonel, as I was waiting for you to end your conversation, I happened to overhear something interesting…”
‘There it is!’ The military commander felt his soul leave his body as the ivory-robed man raised his hand. With a sinister smile, Jimga turned towards the black-haired boy that was hidden behind Madam Warulee and Escred.
“One of your students actually managed to find the base at Mort Bay? That’s quite an impressive feat. Would you mind if I borrowed him for a while?”
“No way!” Madam Warulee cried out in horror. “Shin is part of the Imperius Academy, and plays no part in the military! You can’t just ask for him to assist you in our own operations!”
“Don’t be that guarded.” Sword Tyrant Jimga continued putting on a gentle smile. However, those who have heard of the numerous tales where he annihilated his enemies cold-heartedly, knew that he wasn’t the type to negotiate peacefully. “I have no intentions of using him for any sort of combat. I just want him to be our guide. You see, the issue of the Black Masks had caused my junior sister to have quite the headache. If she were to eliminate the base at Mort Bay, with her mood lightened, I’m sure my junior sister would be willing to give a hefty reward for this Spirit Core boy here.”
“Impossible! There’s no way that we can hand Shin over to you!”
“Hoho, your name is Shin, huh?” Sword Tyrant Jimga decided to ignore the babbling bitch that stood before of Shin and addressed him directly. “How about it? Guide us to the base at Mort Bay, and we’ll reward you accordingly. Not that bad of a deal right?”
“Did you not hear what I said?! We’re not…”
“I believe that I wasn’t talking to you?” Almost instantaneously, a heavy pressure began to mount upon Madam Warulee, forcing her to release her own spiritual energy to combat the bone-breaking burden that was on her body. Although they were both Spirit Emperor’s, Madam Warulee was a pure auxiliary cultivator, while Sword Tyrant Jimga was a master at combat. Even though they were almost equal for now, it won’t take long before the Dalgeom Sect’s Spirit Emperor break through the woman’s defences.
“Senior, please stop.” Shin took one step in front of Madam Warulee and asked Jimga to halt his aggression. “I can consider your terms. However, you must give me an hour to decide.”
Releasing the spiritual pressure on Madam Warulee, Jimga whistled while impressed. “Hoho, so you do have some guts. Alright, let’s negotiate. Why should I give you an hour?”
“I need some time to decide the terms. Also, I need to ensure that my own safety is secured.”
“Fair enough. One hour. That’s all I can wait for.” Amused that a little child like Shin dared to stand in his way, Sword Tyrant Jimga gave the boy a shot. However… “Oh, you should do well to remember. If you take this opportunity to run, I’ll hunt you down. My men are observing the encampment from the outside, so there’s nowhere that you can hide.”
“I’m offended that you think that little of me.”
When? When was the last time a Spirit Core cultivator spoke up to him? The Sword Tyrant couldn’t remember. Even other Spirit Emperor’s walk on eggshells when they interacted with him and yet, the boy was fearless. Was it bravery? Madness? Or was it confidence?
‘This boy really is amusing…’ Smiling from ear to ear, Sword Tyrant Jimga felt a bubbling excitement rise up from his core. Watching the black-haired youth walk away from him and into a hidden area with his friends and seniors, the Spirit Emperor couldn’t help but ask.
“Boy, what’s your name? In full.”
“Shin Iofiel, huh… I’ll remember that name…” With that, Sword Tyrant watched as Shin disappeared into the obscured region as he mentally started the countdown for the hour.