Adamant to apprehend the man, Shin created hundreds of water spheres, something that he couldn’t have managed just months prior. During his cultivation session at Mort Bay, elevating one cultivation level was a bonus. The real reward that Shin had gotten was an advanced understanding of how he could utilise the innate ability that he had awakened alongside his Spirit. The ability to create and manipulate water.
At a much lower mana cost, Shin could now create twice the amount of water than he usually could. Furthermore, he was able to manipulate his created water with surgical precision, giving him a dexterity that wasn’t commonly found with broad abilities such as his own. From the safety of the skies, Shin threw down the hundreds of water orbs, hoping to engulf Star Face in a water dome and cut off his air supply.
Stunned that a Spirit Core cultivator could display such ferocity, Star Face gaped in awe. However, instead of staying still and allowing Shin to completely bind him, his years of battle experience showed as he leapt skillfully away from the water orbs. Star Face’s movements weren’t as refined as Shin, Isadore or Suji, but it was still capable of evading Shin’s constant bombardment.
‘Tskkk! He’s too fast!’ Shin cursed out in angst. Of all the tactics that he had, this was the only one that had a chance to completely capture Star Face. If the bombardment strategy didn’t work, he had no other methods of bringing Star Face down.
On the other side, Star Face was still in the midst of quelling his heartbeat. Shin’s bombardment was annoying to deal with at first, but after a brief period of analysis, a pattern could be observed. Making use of this new information, the veteran fighter spun his war axe using the chain at its end and waited for his prime opening.
‘The brat has this odd ability to remain flying in the air, and from the looks of it, he can move at rapid speeds as well. However, he’s not a Spirit Spectre yet, so he’s not relying on the spiritual power around him, but the exploding water orbs on his ankles.’ Star Face accurately depicted how Shin’s Dance of the Valkyrie worked. ‘If I want to hit him, I must wait until both water orbs have exploded, then I’ll use that chance to shoot him down from the skies.’
That was the prime weakness of the Dance of the Valkyrie. If Shin didn’t have a water orb on his ankles, he wouldn’t be able to fly. However, the window in which a sphere explodes and reforms were extremely narrow. In less than half a second, Shin could create a brand new orb and detonate it at the same time.
‘At least that movement follows a rhythm… One, two, three. One, two, three.’ Star Face continued to observe Shin for a long time. He had one opportunity to strike Shin down. Just like a hunter aiming to shoot down a bird, should he miss, Shin would just fly even higher and out of his range.
‘Reduce the weight of the axe…’ As his mana entered his war axe, the weapon begun to spin at a much faster rate and an upward draft could be felt from a distance.
‘One, two, three… One, two, three… One, two… NOW!!!’
Finding the best possible opening, Star Face threw his war axe with all his might and the weapon whizzed heavenwards at a blinding speed.
‘Increase the weight, and… EXPAND!!!’
An earthen light moved from the ends of Star Face’s palm illuminated the heavy weapon that was now airborne. Instantaneously, the war axe enlarged at an astonishing rate until it was five times its original size. For Shin, who still thought that he had the upper hand, it was a rude awakening. He had just exploded his water orb on his ankles, and it hadn’t returned to its optimal state yet. With nowhere to run, Shin was essentially a sitting duck that was waiting for death.
Before he could even finish his curse mentally, the war axe violently collided with Shin’s torso, sending the youth flying dozens of metres back. With his mouth opened, a thick chunk of red liquid was being pushed as the war axe dug deeper into Shin’s flesh.
Taking advantage that his prime opponent had been neutralised, Star Face leapt towards Cyphia in one movement and grabbed her left arm.
“We have to leave. Boost me.”
“Y-Yes!” Cyphia created the two fragrances once more, allowing Star Face to ignore the fatigue that he had accumulated. However, just as the two were about to make their run for it, a terrifying pressure descended upon them.
“…” Gritting his teeth, Star Face turned towards the scholarly woman that was slowly sauntering towards them. Madam Warulee, who had no intention of protecting Shin during his risky manoeuvre, was finally ready to throw her hat into the ring.
“You’ve gone too far…” As a Spirit Emperor, the only thing that Madam Warulee needed to do to bind the two mercenaries was to release her overwhelming spiritual pressure. “Just pray that he’s okay, otherwise… Your lives would be forfeit.”
‘What gone too far?! It was that asshole that pushed us to the wall!!!’ Star Face was indignant. Shin was the one that started this whole incident. All he did was retaliate in kind. Furthermore, if they had such a powerful figure inside of the group, why did the Spirit Core brat come forward to fight him?
While Star Face was having trouble breathing as well as cussing the black-haired boy that kept interfering with him, Cyphia was already on her knees, with tears and snot dirtying her entire face. In the presence of such spiritual pressure, the poor woman of the night finally broke. She had partnered with the Black Masks just to gain a better life for herself, not to lose it against a Spirit Emperor.
“Madam Warulee… I’m fine…”
‘What?!’ Hearing the familiar voice in the distance, Star Face dropped his jaw.
Walking out from the bushes, Shin reappeared before the burly mercenary. His shirt was torn apart while bits of twigs and dirt fell off his body. However, other than the ragged appearance that he had, Shin looked largely unscathed by Star Face’s vicious attack. His bloodied abdomen had all but recovered plus his skin tone was as healthy as can be.
‘Is he a zombie?!’ Star Face screamed inwardly. The strike that he hit Shin with wasn’t a light one. In fact, he was confident that any Spirit Adept that took that it would have instantly been knocked out of commission. There was no way that a Spirit Core cultivator like Shin could have walked out of that hit without any injuries.
Of course, Star Face was missing one piece of the puzzle. Shin definitely was injured, hell he had sustained a fatal blow. However, using his healing water and upgraded fleshy body that was used to recovering from injuries, Shin could treat himself to the pink of health within seconds.
‘Damn it… I used too much mana to treat myself. That fucker actually tried to kill me!’
Naturally, such a supernatural ability came at an extravagant cost. Drained of more than half his mana, Shin was still shaken from that ordeal. Feeling as if a thousand needles had deflated his entire being, the youth limped forward weakly. However, even though he was physically drained, mentally his eye was still on the prize.
“Mister, just tell me everything you know about the Black Masks and Junius…” Shin bit the tip of his tongue to regain a certain amount of focus and cautioned the two mercenaries before him. “Return with me to the Himmel Empire!”
“…” Star Face gripped the end of his war axe and turned to the remaining people that surrounded him. If the scholarly woman was a Spirit Emperor, did that mean that the rest of the elders in the group were Spirit Emperors as well? If so, there was no way that Star Face or Cyphia could resist them.
“Star Face… Let’s just follow them.” At that moment, a frightened plea echoed in the burly man’s ears. Cyphia, who was all high and mighty the first time they met for the mission, was currently shaking like a leaf. Star Face had even caught the scent of a rich ammonia vapour that was commonly found in restrooms.
There was no questioning it, Cyphia would talk.
‘She’s going to be a squealer…’ Star Face closed his eyes in agony. As someone who understood how the Black Masks criminal syndicate works, he knew what would happen if they confessed to everything. Cyphia didn’t have any kin to worry about; thus she had a certain degree of freedom to do as she pleased. However, if Star Face talked, the Black Masks would unquestionably exact vengeance through annihilating his band of brothers and the family he had back home.
Countless thoughts ran through Star Face’s mind as he theorised on the possible endings that he had. After fifteen seconds, the mercenary finally made up his mind, and a remorseful smile crept up his face. ‘I’m sorry Cyphia… This is the only way.’
“Sure, let’s surrender.” Star Face tapped the shoulders of his partner to reassure her and helped her to her feet. “We’re in this together.”
“Thank you, Star Face!” Cyphia beamed in joy. She had been suffering for the entirety of the mission. These few days were the most stressful period of her life. Even though she had failed the mission, at the very least, she would get a new lease of life in a foreign land. With the burden off her shoulders, Cyphia instantly felt a few kilograms lighter as she happily turned to the Spirit Emperor that barred her path.
“We will follow you back! We will also give you all the information that we have! However, you must promise us asylum and protection! Also…”
Before Cyphia could finish listing out her demands, Star Face’s gorilla-like hands grabbed hold of her head and chin in a tight grip.
In one swift movement, Star Face twisted his partner’s neck as if he were butchering a chicken. The action was too sudden and unexpected that none of the Spirit Emperors had the chance to act. Shin dropped his jaw in horror while he watched the toughened Spirit Adept murder his own partner before his eyes.
‘I’m sorry, Cyphia… I never hated you.’ Dropping the lifeless body of the middle-aged woman down on the floor, Star Face prayed for Cyphia to find peace in his heart with a remorseful frown. Although the period that they had spent together was short, it was still some of the most fun days that he had in recent memory. ‘This is for the best.’
“Why? Why did you do that?” Shin shook in anger, his eyes turned red as he watched the motionless body of the dead woman. If she were severely injured, Shin could have at least attempted to heal her. However, judging on how loose the woman’s head was, it was an instant death that could never be treated. “Wasn’t she your partner?! How could you do such an evil thing?!”
For a moment there, Shin saw a little bit of Junius inside of Star Face. To obtain his desires, he would kill his former allies. Taking out the Yellow-Eyed Dragon Needles, Shin prepared himself to apprehend Star Face once more. Such a vile person could never be left alone.
“She is my partner… And you caused her death.”
“What?!” Shin cried out in a red-hot fury. “You’re the one who snapped her neck viciously! You’re the one who didn’t give her a fighting chance at life! You’re the one who…”
“AND WHO’S THE ONE THAT FORCED ME TO KILL HER?!” Star Face grimaced. A droplet of desolation rolled down his cheeks as he stepped towards Shin. “We were fine until you came along! We didn’t bother you at all! Why did you come? Why did you have to mess up everything?! It’s your fault that she died!!! And also…”
Star Face clenched his fist and placed the war axe onto his neck, stunning all of those who saw his queer movements.
“I shall curse you, brat! Even in death, I will continue to haunt your dreams! Remember these names, Cyphia Dandrea and Garland Mull!!! These are the names of the ones you murdered today!!!”
For the first time, Star Face revealed his name.
‘Lala… Sorry, I’m leaving first.’ Garland Mull cried out mentally.
Before Shin could even think of a reply, the war axe sliced through his muscular neck and instantly beheaded the mercenary. Without even a second thought, Star Face had taken his own life.
With Star Face’s demise, silence descended upon the chilling woods. No one, not the Spirit Emperor’s nor the two children of high society knew what to say. It was the first time that they have seen a man with the resolve to plunge himself into the depths of hell instead of clinging onto life. However, the quietest of them all was a particular black-haired youth.
“Shin…” Isadore’s voice trembled in concern as he approached his buddy.
“Let’s go.” However, instead of acknowledging the issue, Shin turned his face around to hide his expression. At that moment, no one could tell what he was thinking. After a brief period of time, Shin slowly walked towards Madam Warulee and pulled on her sleeves. “We should return…”
“Y-Yeah…” Madam Warulee’s mouth twitched as she fumbled on her words. Grabbing hold of the youth, she took to the skies and begun flying straight back to camp. Throughout the entire flight, Shin dropped his head down so that no one could catch his face. However, as Isadore was zooming through the skies, he could swear that he saw crystalline beads of endless sorrow dripping down from the heavens, even though the sky was as clear as can be…