“Ha… Ha… I think we’re out of that monster’s range…” Madam Warulee heavily panted as she glanced over the shoulder to see that the bay was no longer in sight. “My god! A Tier 9 Spirit Beast! I had always thought that the rumours were overstated, but the Black Masks really have monsters like that in their possession.”
“It really was a close call.” Reginald, who was still holding on to Elrin, unconsciously gulped in fear. Just moments ago, they felt a tremendous mana surge, and a blinding light flashed from the east as if the sun had descended upon the Earth. Through his assessment, there was no way that any Spirit Emperor could have survived that attack, not to mention the three dumbos that they were protecting. “Lady Elrin, when we get back to the Capital, I will advise the master not to let you out anymore. For your first expedition in a foreign land, you met the World Serpent… If we let you out anymore, perhaps you might even encounter a Primordial Beast.”
“What?! Uncle Reg, it’s not my fault that a Tier 9 Spirit Beast came out! No one expected that!” Elrin heavily protested her butler’s claim. If her father decided to tighten the security around her, she wouldn’t be able to join the future adventures that Shin would plan.
“My apologies, Lady Elrin. My job is to protect you from harm. Hence, I can’t advise that you risk your life ever again.” Reginald ignored his young lady’s bawling and turned to the youth responsible for bringing Elrin out. “I’m sure you understand, Master Shin.”
Shin furrowed his brows before heaving out a deep sigh. “Of course. Elrin’s safety is paramount. I won’t ask her to join me in the near future.”
“… That’s good to hear.” Reginald’s lips twitched as he heard Shin emphasise the term ‘near’ future. Apparently, the youth hasn’t given up on roping Elrin into his ranks.
As for the last remaining Spirit Emperor that was guarding Isadore, he remained silent and continued to observe his surroundings. If there were any sign of danger, the guard would immediately retreat back to the Capital with Isadore at his top speed. With his stealth and speed abilities, it would take him less than an hour to reach the city gates, but Isadore wasn’t ready to abandon his friends in a foreign land.
“We should continue to move. There’s no telling whether the Black Masks have any more Tier 9 Spirit Beasts that could move inland. Madam Warulee, are you able to continue flying back to the Capital?” Isadore asked the panting bespectacled woman.
“Give me a moment, please…” Unlike Reginald that the Spirit Emperor shrouded in a dark robe, Madam Warulee wasn’t a pure combatant. Her expertise lay in the auxiliary department and thus, her flying technique wasn’t as refined. Thus, when she escaped with all that she had, the Spirit Emperor expended much more mana that she needed to, sending her spiritual body into disarray. She needed a few minutes to catch her breath and stabilise her frantic mana.
“What is it?”
At that moment, the dark-robed Spirit Emperor found a peculiarity on the ground and let out a soft grunt. Being the closest to his guard, Isadore was able to catch the curious groan.
“There’s a pair of Spirit Adepts staring at us from down there.” The guard pointed towards a dense part of the forest and informed Isadore and the rest about the two pair of eyes observing there.
“Spirit Adept? Hmmm… Oh! Shin, look at that!” Isadore followed his guard’s finger and found two familiar faces down in the bushes. “We saw them with Junius the other day!”
“What?!” Shin exclaimed in shock and diverted all his attention to the couple that was staring at them. Forgetting all about the fear that the World Serpent had inflicted upon them, Shin was now entirely focused on nabbing the two to interrogate them about Junius.
“Spirit Adepts… We can handle them.”
“Shin! We’re to return to the Capital! We can’t waste any more time dilly-dallying in the Land of Dreams!” Madam Warulee cautioned the youth about the risks of taking on an opponent when they were already on the run.
Unfortunately, her advice ran out of Shin’s ears as easily as it got in. Apprehending Junius was his lifelong goal, and anything that could get him closer to nabbing the traitor of the orphans was something worth pursuing.
“Don’t worry, it won’t take long.” Shin released himself from Madam Warulee’s hold and used the Dance of the Valkyrie to descend upon the two Spirit Adepts. Even though he was in the Spirit Core realm, he had the utmost confidence that he could handle the two mercenaries. Furthermore, if life was in danger, there was no way that Madam Warulee would sit on the sidelines.
“This brat! He’s going to be the death of me; I tell you, the death of me!!!” As expected, the bespectacled woman was livid. When she first met Shin, Madam Warulee would have done anything in her power to bring him into her auxiliary course. However, after this expedition out of the academy, she swore to herself that she would never get involved in Shin’s actions ever again.
“I know what you want to say, Lady Elrin.” Before his master could even voice her opinion, the butler put on a stern face and rejected anything that she was about to suggest. “No more wilful requests. At most, we can watch him from a distance. However, the moment I find a threat, we are to fly back.”
“Tch… Fine…” Elrin clicked her tongue and looked at her only ally left in the group. Isadore shrugged his shoulders in a helpless expression and turned to his guard to whisper a few words.
“I’ll go assist Shin.”
No matter how talented Shin was, taking on two Spirit Adepts at the same time was a stretch. With Isadore’s backing, at the very least Shin’s safety would be secured.
“They found us…” Star Face’s expression turned grim as he saw the flying youth that was headed his way.
“Shit! Shit! SHIT!!!” Cyphia didn’t have the same serenity that her partner had. Judging by how their opponents were able to fly, they must have at least reached the Spirit Spectre realm, a level that neither she nor Star Face could challenge. “What are you doing, we have to run! The Black Masks only told us to inform them when we saw an enemy headed their way! We’ve already done that, so let’s leave!”
When Star Face and Cyphia saw the horde gryphons charging towards Mort Bay, they snapped the communication device to inform the Black Masks of the imminent threat and immediately hid in a place far away from the coast. Even though they were under the syndicate’s payroll, there was no way that either of the mercenaries would risk their lives for that dreadful organisation.
“And do you think they would let us go?” Grabbing hold of Cyphia’s wrist, Star Face’s eyes twitched as he readied himself for battle. “Even if we run, they will probably catch up in a blink of an eye. I’m sure you felt it… That massive surge of spiritual energy…”
“What about it?”
“If my guess is correct, these people are fleeing from the devastation caused by the syndicate, and they probably have incurred some losses.” Star Face started to theorise about the true identity of the assailants that were up high in the air. “Once they figure out that we’re linked to the Black Masks, we would be arrested and placed into isolation chambers where we will be tortured for information. Best case scenario, they kill us after they’re done with the torture. Worst case… We’ll be tortured for the rest of our lives as they pin the blame of the downfall of Mort Bay on us.”
Cyphia’s face paled when she heard Star Face explain his logic. All she wanted to do was get a little bit of gold so that she could escape her miserable fate as a woman of the night. Yet, if she got caught here, her life would be void?! “W-What are we going to do?”
“That’s if they find out that we’re linked to the Black Masks… Just follow my lead.” Star Face put on his most natural smile and prepared to welcome the oncoming guest. As someone who had negotiated with many high-ranking figures in his day, the mercenary knew precisely how to cheese his way through this tough situation.
Firstly, he would feign ignorance about knowing anything about the Black Masks. Secondly, he would claim that he was a hunter that was commissioned to bring down a rogue Spirit Beast that was terrorising a nearby village, and finally, if push comes to shove, he would offer gold in exchange for his smooth departure. In a normal circumstance, his tactic would have a good chance of working. Unfortunately, he ran into an unknown variable.
‘Wait! Didn’t we meet this kid at the Mystery of the Dream?!’ As Shin closed in onto the duo, Star Face managed to get a clear view of the flying youth. ‘He’s a Spirit Spectre?! No, that can’t be! He couldn’t resist the Mystery of the Dream, there’s no way that he’s a realm above us!’
In the cultivation world, barring a few exceptions, only those who had shed their mortality for the first time to become a Spirit Spectre could move unhindered in the sky. It was a well-known fact. Hence, when Star Face saw the youth flying straight towards him, he couldn’t help but imagine the worst.
“Mister, could you spare a few moments to talk?” Shin landed right before the pair and readied himself for combat. Although he was here to ask about Junius, Shin anticipated some pushback from the two Spirit Adepts.
“Boy, I never thought that I would see you again under these circumstances.” Star Face grinned confidently and stood in front of his shaking partner.
Shin squinted his eyes and carefully observed the well-built man. With his eyepatch gone, Shin could clearly see the star-shaped mark that covered his entire left eye. A striking appearance that would turn heads wherever he went, the muscular man must have been a famous figure back in the day.
‘What’s with his face? Is that why he wore an eyepatch inside of the Main Hub?’ Shin thought to himself. ‘Whatever, that’s not important.’
“I too didn’t expect that you worked for the Black Masks.”
Hearing Shin’s words, both Star Face and Cyphia felt a chill run down their spine as sirens rang inside of their brains. Never in a thousand years did they expect their connection to the Black Masks to be revealed so easily.
“What are you talking about? What Black Masks?” Star Face did his best to give a neutral smile, but the tone in his voice was unable to hide the shock that he had just received.
“Don’t play dumb with me. I saw you two meeting with Junius!” Shin immediately retorted, drawing a chilling glare from the veteran mercenary.
‘To think that he even knows about Junius! Looks like we can’t bluff him through conventional methods.’ Star Face opted to change his approach.
“Boy… Who are you? What organisation do you hail from?” The colossal man hid his hands behind his back and gestured to Cyphia. Once things went south, they were to run with everything that they’ve got.
“I come from the Himmel Empire, but that’s not the issue. Tell me, where’s Junius! Judging from your mana signatures, you haven’t been touched by the Allfather, so there’s no need for you to cover up for the syndicate!”
‘Himmel Empire? Were they chasing the Black Masks? Even if they were, why would they send such a young kid? He even knows about Junius and the Allfather!’ The more Star Face thought about the issue, the more questions he got. However, the most critical thing was…
‘I can’t let them capture me back into the Himmel Empire!’
If he was being chased by law enforcement from the Land of Dreams, he could pay his way to freedom. If he was captured by the Kori Federation, he could use his connections to get a reduced sentence. However, he had absolutely no influence in the Himmel Empire. Once he was imprisoned there, Star Face was confident that he would never see the light of day.
“We have to run.” Star Face whispered to Cyphia at a volume that Shin couldn’t hope to pick up. However, just as they were about to make a run for it, Isadore and his guard landed in the opposite direction and blocked their path of retreat.
“Mister, don’t make me repeat myself…” Shin’s eyes turned muddied as he completely enveloped himself in cerulean scales. At the same time, dozens of water spheres formed and circled the Spirit Core cultivator. Even though he was evidently a realm weaker than Star Face or Cyphia, the pair had goosebumps all over their body as they watched the youth close in on their position.
“Where is Junius?!”