The Land of Dreams. Mort Bay.
For the first time since its fall, the Land of Dreams entered into a state of national emergency as the beast horde that seemingly appeared out of nowhere marched menacingly towards the Main Hub. Businessmen scurried alongside their families, while diplomats all convened to discuss the best course of action.
While the pandamonium was beginning to unravel itself, the source of all the mayhem, Mort Bay was relatively tranquil. Due to the lack of vigilance, the Black Masks and their operatives working there had full control over the entire bay, allowing their risky operation to continue on without any interference.
Initially, many among them feared that the high volume of Spirit Beasts coming from the oceans would draw the attention from the Lantis Republic’s navy or the Kori Federation’s spies. However, the Black Masks had something up their sleeves.
“To think that they have vehicles that could travel underwater…” Star Face lauded his employers. As a paid mercenary, he, alongside Cyphia weren’t given much information about the enigmatic syndicate that they worked for. He didn’t even know where the Black Masks got that many resources to do the deeds. The only thing that they knew about the organisation was what they had been shown.
“Yeah… Honestly, if they had this much power, why did they even bother hiring us?” Cyphia grumbled. Even though she was effectively getting paid to do nothing, it wasn’t a good feeling at all to get relegated to the side.
“I can answer that.”
Taken aback by the viridian-haired youth’s sudden appearance, Cyphia felt her heart skip a beat as she unconsciously took a few steps back. Being someone from the Black Masks, Cyphia didn’t know what Junius would do now that he had heard her derogatory curse against his organisation. On the other hand, Star Face, who had been carefully monitoring his surroundings, raised his brows as he observed the young man closing in.
‘How did he appear so close to us without me knowing?!’ Star Face was in awe. For someone of Junius’ age to acquire a stealth ability that could even slip under his radar was the feat.
“Don’t worry, I don’t particularly like being a blabbermouth. However, when you sing, make sure that there’s no one around first, lest you embarrass yourself again.” Seeing how shaken Cyphia was, Junius gave out a wry smile and winked at the middle-aged woman.
“Y-Yeah…” Cyphia flushed in shame, something that was rare for a woman of her experience. Taking one look at the middle-aged woman that somehow reverted back to being a maiden, Star Face let out one massive sigh before changing the topic.
“Junius, would you mind telling us why you hired us? If you had so much power, our expertise is completely unneeded.”
“Right…” Expecting his question, Junius turned to the burly man, who was almost twice his size. “You see, we didn’t expect for the situation to reach this stage. The underwater crafts was a technology that we wished to hide until a later stage of our plan. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, we were forced to bring it out a little early.”
“Later stages?” Seeing that it was an excellent opportunity to learn more about the Black Masks and their ultimate objective, Star Face listened in with great interest.
“That’s right. We are only in the middle of Stage One of the Grand Plan. The underwater crafts were meant to be shown in Stage Three.” Junius cryptically explained. Although he had a favourable impression about the two individuals before him, they weren’t part of the Black Masks after all. “If not for the Himmel Empire interfering, we would have gone with the original plan, using mercenaries as proxies while working from the shadows. After all, moving thousands upon thousands of Spirit Beasts into the Kori Federation was no easy task. Brute forcing our way through like what we’re doing now is the last resort.”
“I see…” Star Face bitterly replied. “However, now that our jobs are made redundant, will we get paid the same?”
“Of course! Keeping a good relationship with those that we work with is imperative for the Black Masks after all!” Junius joyfully smiled. If not for witnessing his conniving deeds, Star Face would have thought that the young man was genuinely looking out for him. “Also, we plan to hire you in the future, so you’ll definitely get paid accordingly.”
“That’s good to hear…”
“However, there’s one more thing that I need you two to do.”
“…” As he anticipated, there was no such thing as a free lunch. Now that their original tasks had been terminated, Junius planned to use the pair for another assignment.
“While we’re making this much noise, I’m sure that there will be pests that will come and disturb us. All you need to do is keep a lookout for them and inform us when they get near. Simple, right?”
“You asshole…” Star Face narrowed his eyes and cursed the young man before him. “There would be Spirit Lords, Spirit Kings or even Spirit Emperors that would be arriving! And you want us to stand in their way?! Isn’t it akin to a suicide mission.”
“No, no. You’re overthinking it.” Junius took the insults with a smile and walked closer to the cliff edge, overseeing the entire sea in the process. “They won’t care about dealing with you, because…”
A deafening shriek, one of the likes that Star Face had never heard before, wailed out from the ocean, forcing everyone who stood at the bay to crouch down in agony. Even the Brahmins, who were in charge of the whole operation had dropped to the floor while covering their ears.
The sky darkened as hundred-metre tall waves crashed into the bay, levelling thousands of trees in the process. The ground shook while all who stayed on Mort Bay struggled to stay away from the carnage. Sharp, piercing winds sliced through the area accompanied by dozens of thunderbolts that raged down from the heavens above.
Lying flat on the floor, a force field enveloped Junius, Star Face and Cyphia, protecting them from the natural disasters that were occurring all around them. From the depths of the ocean, a meandering shadow slithered up to the surface, creating a bulge of water as it emerged.
As the chaos died down, Star Face and Cyphia finally were able to have a closer look at the colossal creature that now lay claim to the bay. Its marine blue scales glistened as droplets of water dripped down its serpentine body, making the monster look semi-divine. Opening its jaws, a breath made out of hot steam flowed out as if it were smoking a cigar. However, instead of getting all foggy, bay started to melt once in contact with the steam.
The creature’s dark yellow eyes that seemed to be capable of turning any human to stone rolled around its sockets as it lazily examined its surroundings. To the beast, whose head was the size of an entire town, the humans down on the bay didn’t pose a single threat to it. However, it still kept a lookout for any powerful individuals on the horizon. With every turn of its head, the beast’s refined beard with flow against the wind, ignoring the laws of nature itself.
Only after a full minute, did the Spirit Beast realise that there were no enemies for it to take care of. Losing interest, the beast returned back into the depths of the bay, waiting for a worthy opponent to arrive and threaten its throne. Once the monster had disappeared, Junius turned to the two mercenaries and gave a smile that none of them would ever forget.
“You don’t have to worry about any Spirit Emperors… Ao will take care of them.”
“Shin! Are you out of your mind?!” Back at the encampment, Madam Warulee was engulfed with rage as she chided the black-haired boy that was seated silently at the side. “You want to move with the Dalgeom Sect?! Not to mention, the Sword Tyrant Jimga?! Do you even know who that man is?!”
“Yeah…” Sword Tyrant Jimga’s name was well-known, even by those from the Himmel Empire. A Spirit Emperor that dealt with enemies with one stroke of his blade, Jimga was considered to be the most powerful Spirit Emperor in the Dalgeom Sect, which by extension meant that he was one of the strongest Spirit Emperors in the world. However, Shin was unfazed by the monikers that were given to that foreign man. Right now, his priority was dealing with the Black Masks, even if it meant siding with the Kori Federation.
“Madam Warulee, I know that it would be selfish to ask this of you, but could you accompany me to Mort Bay? We’re there as guides, so I doubt that the Dalgeom Sect would do anything to us.”
“You!!!” Infuriated by Shin’s lack of sense, the woman slammed her fists on the wall. Evidently, she had been pampering the boy too much. “Let’s say I agree to guard you, if the Sword Tyrant wished to kill us, he would do so with relative ease! I can tell you this, if he wished to silence us, just one stroke would be sufficient!”
“I know… That’s why we should leave our defences to the two guards that Elrin and Isadore brought.” Shin playfully smiled as he looked at his stunned friends.
“… You noticed?” Isadore was speechless while Elrin had a blank face.
“No, I can’t sense them. But I’m sure that there’s no way your guardians would leave your side in a foreign land.” As Shin said those words, two shadows appeared behind his two friends, confirming his suspicions.
At the side of Isadore, a full dark-robed man, who could only be identified by his sparkling brown eyes, looked at Shin with a tinge of curiosity. He had been protecting Isadore ever since they left the Empire, and this was the first time that Shin had actively called out for him.
In the other corner, Elrin was now guarded by a grey-bearded butler who wore formal attire, making one question how he could maintain such a tidy appearance all this time. When he first revealed himself, Shin raised in eyebrows in complete surprise. He had seen this butler once before.
“Senior Reginald? Uncle Terlus really spoils you, huh?” Shin’s eyes were now hopeful. Reginald was the Zedcris household’s head butler as well as Terlus Zedcris’ best bodyguard. As a Rank 78 Spirit Emperor, Reginald was undoubtedly one of the mightest protectors one could hope for. Usually, Reginald would be in charge of mending the household matters or defending his employer from any harm. However, the moment Elrin stepped out of the Capital, Reginald was ordered by Terlus to protect the girl at all cost.
“Master Shin, I’m impressed by your deduction skills.” Giving the youth one respectful bow, Reginald praised the boy’s amazing abilities. “However, I can’t recommend bringing the lady into enemy territory.”
Nothing was surprising about the butler’s rejection. His job was to protect Elrin, not bring her headfirst into the action. However, before Shin could even rebut, a teary voice came from the white-haired girl.
“Uncle Reg! Shin and I are a team! If he’s going to Mort Bay, I’m going as well! Am I supposed to abandon my friend?”
“Hah… I knew you would say that.” Shrugging his shoulders, Reginald quickly let go of his train of thoughts and helplessly informed the youth. “But as you know, I have to protect the lady. If things go south, I will escape with her first.”
“Fair enough.” Shin offered the butler a firm handshake. After sealing the deal with one party, Shin moved on to the other. “Isadore?”
“There’s nothing to be discussed. I’m going.”
“… I knew I could count on you.” Other than the orphans, Isadore was the one that Shin was closest to. There wasn’t a need for unnecessary words.
“Madam Warulee. We need to combat the threat of the Black Masks. I’ll just be showing the way for the Dalgeom Sect. Once we’re done, I promise to retreat immediately.” Shin stared at the middle-aged woman with adamant eyes. To him, taking down the Black Masks was vital. It didn’t matter if he used his own hands or if he borrowed someone else’s sword.
“You brat…” Madam Warulee grumbled. Even though she hated how Shin was handling things, there was no way that she could abandon him in the Land of Dreams. Firstly, Shin was under her direct supervision, and if something happened to him, her name would unquestionably be dragged through the mud. Additionally, Shin was the sole disciple of Lady Seph. Just thinking about the consequences of leaving Shin alone and returning to a fuming Spirit Venerate made Madam Warulee tremble.
“FINE FINE!!! Bloody hell, now I understand why Mychael hates interacting with you! You’re the devil!”
“Hehe, thanks for the compliment.”
With his safety settled, Shin confidently walked back into the room where the Sword Tyrant was waiting. The moment Shin returned with two additional Spirit Emperors, Jimga raised his eyebrows in confusion but opted not to say anything for now.
“Have you already decided, Shin Iofiel? You still have forty more minutes, you know?”
“That’s unnecessary. I’m sure you don’t want to have your time wasted anymore.”
“Hmmm, well that’s fine with me. So what’s your decision?” Jimga asked, even though he could guess the answer.
“Just to confirm, you said that you will give me a reward for showing the way, am I right?”
‘He’s going straight for that? What a greedy fellow.’ Jimga laughed inwardly. “What of it?”
“I’ll just tell you what reward I want first.” Shin took a deep breath in. Although he could ask for anything from the Dalgeom Sect, he ultimately chose a reward for the greater good.
“Hoho, and if we don’t accept, you’ll not follow me?” Jimga smiled as an uneasy tension descended upon the room. The three Spirit Emperors on Shin’s side slowly changed their stances in preparation for an all-out brawl. Fortunately, Shin had no intention of forcing a fight.
“Not at all. I’ll follow you no matter what.” Shin waved his hands. “Furthermore, the reward I want is more of a request, so you don’t really have to grant it.”
‘A request?’ The Sword Tyrant was baffled. As a Spirit Core cultivator, Shin could have asked for an array of resources that could boost his cultivation. Yet, the only thing Shin wanted was to give a request to him.
“Senior, I know that the Kori Federation is not sold on the idea of the Black Masks, and they still think that the Himmel Empire is trying to pin the blame onto an invisible enemy. However, the threat of the Black Masks is very real. I have personally witnessed how powerful their organisation is. The only thing that I ask of you is to help convince the other Master Sects that the Black Masks are an existential threat.” Giving the man a deep bow, Shin bit his lip, praying that the Sword Tyrant would listen to his plea.
“That’s all you want? The destruction of the Black Masks?”
“No… That’s the ONLY thing I want!” Shin replied the Sword Tyrant with a resolute stare.
‘That gaze of his… I see… He has a bone to pick with the Black Masks huh?’ Jimga had seen that look hundreds, no, thousands of times before. It was the look of a man on the path of vengeance and a man who will do anything to achieve his goal. ‘Well, since it’s just a request, I’ll humour him then.’
“Granted. When I return to the sect, I’ll relay it to my Master.”
“Thank you, senior!!!”
And thus, Shin had taken another step to his ultimate goal.