The questioning of the group lasted for no more than two hours. Pulling out as much information as they possibly could, the Second Army Chief Intelligence Officer decided to keep the six individuals in a basic tent for holding while they continued to fix up the decrepit town hub. Naturally, Madam Warulee wanted to protest the queer arrangement, but she was silenced by the officer’s haughty stare.
In times of crisis, the military’s words were law. Should she go against the arrangement set down by the Second Army, martial law might apply and getting out of this situation would be ten times more tricky.
Pacing back and forth within the empty tent, Madam Warulee complained with an exasperated tone. “How could you hold us without any repercussions?! When we return to the Capital, I’m going to lodge a severe complaint against that bloody officer! What was his name again?”
“Lieutenant Colonel Hames.” Elrin supplied her teacher with the answer.
“That’s right, Lieutenant Colonel Hames! Who does he think he is?!”
“Hehe, Madam Warulee! You sound like a spoilt noble brat!”
Ignoring the theatre that Elrin and her teacher were putting on, Shin was brooding by himself in one corner. Over the past twenty-four hours, too many things had happened to him. From witnessing the might of the Dalgeom Sect’s Pixie to experiencing how potent a World Serpent really was. Furthermore, his dedication to nab Junius had directly caused the deaths of two Spirit Adepts, even though he had no intention of killing. And to add a cherry on top… He witnessed the true manifestation of the Black Masks plans through the fall of the Main Hub.
‘Was I wrong to chase Junius?’ Shin was having his own doubts about all of his actions thus far. He had trained extensively to reach a state where he could gain power that would be effective in the war against the Black Masks. Yet, in his first battle against the Black Masks, due to his selfishness, he had taken two lives away from the earth.
Although he had not killed them with his own hands, there was no question that if Shin had left them alone, Star Face and Cyphia would be walking merrily home right now.
‘No… They were working for the Black Masks… They were working for an evil organisation… If I didn’t stop them, someone else would… Someone else would…’
Without a doubt, the Black Masks were the vilest criminal syndicate in the world. Just one look at their deeds in the Main Hub was enough to solidify that claim. However, it didn’t change the fact that Shin had just caused two human lives to be eternally voided.
‘I’m not in the wrong… They are in the wrong. They are in the wrong…’ Like a broken tape recorder, Shin continued to mumble to himself.
When he was mauling down the remnant Spirit Beasts that were feasting on the dead bodies of the Black Masks victims, Shin had dug himself deeper and deeper into the valley of hate. To forget his guilt of causing the deaths of Star Face and Cyphia, Shin had to place all of his mental functions on another object… And that was getting rid of as many Spirit Beasts as he can.
‘Cyphia Dandrea and Garland Mull… Cyphia Dandrea and Garland Mull…’ Shin burnt those two names into his memory. Just like Gawil Jefferson, the Watkin Murderer that had died before Shin’s eyes, the names of the two mercenaries soon found their way to the deepest parts of the young man’s mind.
“Why the hell did you lock my disciple up?! Are you retarded?!”
At that moment, a familiar adenoidal voice could be heard in the distance. Shin’s sensitive ears perked up in amazement as he was brought back into the material realm.
“Venerate! They are currently under our custody! You can’t just barge in like that! We have to follow the right protocols…”
“Bullshit! I don’t care about your stupid military rules! I’m bringing him out, and that’s the last of that! Ridan can go cry by himself if he has a problem!”
The flaps of the tent’s entrance fluttered wildly as an ethereal blonde beauty barged into the room. Seeing the familiar face, the Spirit Emperors in the tent all backed away with a bitter smile. The Spirit Venerate’s temper was infamous to all who knew her name. If they crossed her the wrong way, they knew that they would be in for a lot of trouble.
“Master?!” Shin’s face brightened up for the first time this week. As they say, a familiar face would light up even the darkest of nights. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to find you, of course!” Lady Seph sneered. “Bloody hell! Ridan actually dared to detain my disciple! That idiot sure has wool for a brain!”
A snowy white gerbil climbed out from the cleavage of the gorgeous woman and immediately flew towards the young black-haired youth. Like a dog that hadn’t met its owner for months, the gerbil whipped her tail back and forth in joy and snuggled its snout right at Shin’s neck.
“Bingbing… I missed you too.” Rubbing himself in the familiar scent, Shin felt his frantically beating heart calm down.
“Yip yip yip!!!”
“I know, I know. I will stay a little bit longer this time…” Shin continued to pet the Tier 8 Spirit Beast. Watching the scene where Shin playfully toyed with the Kamaitachi, many of the cultivators in the tent dropped their jaws, especially the military men.
A Kamaitachi was notorious for being a vicious Spirit Beast that could easily rival a Spirit Emperor in might. Their deadly claws and frosty spiritual abilities made them Spirit Beasts that dominate their food chain, even though their natural size was relatively small. While those that came with Imperius Academy were just shocked that Shin could control a Tier 8 Spirit Beast, those from the military had a much different thought.
“Didn’t the project get scrapped? How can there be a Kamaitachi that’s so tame?”
“I don’t know… I’ve heard that the experiment was a significant failure and there was a huge loss of life. That’s why the Imperial Courts scrapped the project altogether.”
Two officers whispered to one another. When the Lieutenant Colonel overheard their conversation, he glared back at them with disdain in his eyes, bringing shivers down the officers’ spines. Immediately shutting their mouths, the officers abruptly stood up straight like two marching dolls. Unfortunately, the damage was already done.
‘Project? Imperial Courts?’ Shin repeated the officers’ conversation back in his head. On the other hand, Lady Seph ignored the nosy military men and grabbed her student by his wrists.
“Let’s go. I’m bringing you back to the house.”
“Venerate! They are under military confinement! You have to wait until…”
Before Lieutenant Colonel Hames could give out a retort, an immense pressure, one of the likes he had never felt before, descended upon his body. For the first time in his life, the Spirit King fell to his knees. Each and every bone in his skeletal system cracked under the strain as he attempted to resist the overwhelming waterfall of spiritual pressure that was increasing by the second.
Forcing himself to look up, the Lieutenant Colonel saw both the ethereal beauty and her pet emitting out a celestial aura. Not only was he being attacked by a Rank 82 Spirit Venerate’s presence, but the Tier 8 Kamaitachi reverted back to its primal state as well. In the face of domineering power, the Spirit King seemingly forgot how to breathe as he found himself reaching for his neck.
‘I’m going to die…’ That was the only thought that Lieutenant Colonel Hames could muster out.
“Venerate Seraphim, you shouldn’t scare the juniors too much.” A thick, resonant voice descended down from the heavens and immediately alleviated the pressure off of the Lieutenant Colonel.
Grabbing hold of the ankles of the burly man that entered the tent, Lieutenant Colonel Hames showed an unsightly scene. His eyes all teared up while his nose was covered with snot. If an outsider came in at this very instant, he wouldn’t have guessed that the slob of a mess was a Spirit King that had fought faithfully for the Himmel Empire’s Second Army all his life.
“Ridan, are you going to interfere with my actions?” Lady Seph looked that Field Marshal with contempt in her eyes. She hated both the Imperial Courts and the military. The Spirit Venerate that stood before her was a manifestation of both organisations. Not only did he lead one of the greatest armies in the Himmel Empire, but he also had a seat in the Imperial Courts where he could make substantial legislative decisions. Hence, it wasn’t a surprise that Lady Seph was bitter towards the brawny man.
“Not at all.” Ridan Bitterdawn smiled. Moving his eyes between Shin and Lady Seph, the Spirit Venerate did his best to mask his true thoughts. “If I had known that your esteemed disciple was here, I would have notified you immediately. After all, the assistance from the Healer’s Association is much needed in these dire times.”
“Ha, Ha, Ha… Such sophistry.” Lady Seph clapped her hands sarcastically. Among all of the Spirit Venerates in the country, without a doubt, Lady Seph was the most influential. The number of people and organisations that owed her favours was as vast as the ocean itself. Thus, no one, not even His Majesty himself, dared to offend the woman unless it was a last resort.
Shin’s identity as Lady Seph’s sole disciple was a well-known fact among the members of High Society, especially after his spectacular display in the year-end tournaments. Hence, there was no way that the Field Marshal wouldn’t have known about Shin’s true identity.
“Whatever, I’m not here to debate you. Are you letting me through or not?” Not one to mince her words, Lady Seph declared her intent to leave, regardless of the Field Marshal’s permission.
Readying her Iofiel Angel, Lady Seph prepared herself for war. Even though she was clearly no match for the combat-oriented Spirit Venerate Ridan, there was no way that Lady Seph would abandon Shin in a god-forsaken military facility. Likewise, Bingbing enlarged herself and emitted a massive amount of spiritual pressure. If Lady Seph decided to fight the Field Marshal before her, the frosty gerbil would do its best to support her.
“…” Field Marshal Ridan furrowed his brows at the open hostility that Lady Seph was displaying. The Divine Healer’s disdain for the Imperial Courts and the military was well-known, but he didn’t think that it had reached the extent where reconciliation would be non negotiable.
‘Looks like that incident is still fresh in her mind… Even after all these years.’ Ridan Bitterdawn sighed in his heart. Lady Seph was once a great asset that the Himmel Empire had. Not only was she the most famous healer in the modern world, but the divine woman had also mentored countless important figureheads in their cultivation.
His Majesty, Tenno, was one notable example. The current Frie Clan Master, Enfen Frie, was another. During her days as the Imperial Physician, Lady Seph had made herself an indispensable figure, whether it was her healing expertise or her advanced research, her work was felt in all levels of society. Yet, the Imperial Courts had to screw it up by messing with her through that horrendous experiment.
With all the bridges burnt, all trust that Lady Seph had for the military had evaporated entirely, urging her to completely ignore the army’s protocol.
“Of course, my lady…” Ultimately giving in to the near two hundred-year-old senior, Field Marshal Ridan bowed down and opened the path for Lady Seph to leave. “However, please remember your promise. We will begin hunting the Black Masks within the next few days, and your presence will be beneficial for us.”
“…” Lady Seph totally ignored the Field Marshal and led Shin out of the tent. Bingbing quickly pumped mana into her body and fattened up tenfold, allowing the master and disciple duo to mount her.
“Bingbing, fly back home.”
Excited that it could finally spend time with Shin back at Lady Seph’s residence, the furry white gerbil lifted itself up high in the air and sped through the skies.
“Listen here, Shin! When you get back home, you’re not to leave the house for a full week! I’m grounding you for disobeying my orders! You understand me?!”
“Yeah…” Shin rubbed his face on the familiar back of his master as he hugged her from behind. The nostalgic scent and warmth that came out from Lady Seph soothed his frantic self.
“I’ll leave Bingbing back home for your protection, so you’re not to leave the house! Even if that stupid Eru ask you to return back to the academy, you tell him to screw off, you understand me?!”
“Yeah…” Tightening his grip on the nagging slender woman, Shin’s face became wet as his tears flowed out of his eyes and stained the robes of his master.
So much pain… So much… Pain…
Shin had been putting on a tough front before his comrades. He had to… He was the one that wanted to create an organisation that dealt with the Black Masks. If they saw him being set back by one ordeal, not to mention during his first expedition out, they would think that he’s just a kid with big dreams that didn’t have the means to achieve his goals.
“Also, you need to be wary of… Shin?” Sensing that something was wrong, Lady Seph glanced over her shoulder and watched the scalp of her precious disciple. “Did something happen?”
Shin couldn’t tell her… Shin couldn’t tell her that him moving against Junius had caused the deaths of two mercenaries. He couldn’t tell her that Star Face cursed him in his deathbed. He couldn’t tell her that he saw thousands of decapitated bodies and pulled out a child’s hand from the body of a Spirit Beast. He… Couldn’t worry his master that cared so much about him. He had let her down too many times already… He couldn’t let her down again.
“Just let me stay like this for a while… Sorry, Master. Just let me…” Shin tried his best to contain his sobbing voice, but some of it slipped through, prompting Lady Seph to look at the boy with immense worry.
“Master, please… Just let me stay like this.”
“Okay.” Turning her body completely, Lady Seph welcomed Shin into her arms and gently stroked his back. Shin sunk deeper and deeper into her bosom and was finally unable to control his emotions.
With nobody to witness him, Shin let loose his bottled grief, guilt, and hate, wailing out to his heart’s content. All the while, a motherly embrace comforted him, not willing to ever let him go again…