The first war between the Black Masks syndicate and the three superpowers took the world by storm. Initially being a name only known the Himmel Empire, now all residents in the Terre Continent had learned of the notorious name. Commanding an army of Dalits, hundreds of highly skilled cultivators, over a hundred thousand Spirit Beasts with four of which surpassing the legendary Tier 9, the Black Masks instantly became a household name.
Their morbid actions in the Land of Dreams resonated with every living soul. What if the Black Masks targeted their city next? Would we end up like the residents of the Main Hub? Everyone soon woke up with fear in their hearts. To combat their fear, brave men and women would willingly assist the authorities on every ounce of information that they had about the Black Masks.
A Spirit Beast pack that came from the Land of Dreams? Reported. A suspicious gathering of a few dark-robed individuals? Reported. A rustle in the bushes? Reported.
The actions of the Black Masks had triggered a wave of paranoia, especially among villagers that were near the Land of Dreams. The Kori Federation, the Himmel Empire, and seemingly the entire Terre Continent firmly going all-out against the Black Mask syndicate, no one would argue that it was the beginning of the end.
However, the major powers got complacent. They underestimated the Black Masks true potential. Yes, the notoriety of the Black Masks made them out to be public enemy number one. But the fame had also proved itself to be a great recruitment campaign.
Any criminal that had been persecuted by the establishment now saw the Black Masks as a place of refuge. Not only did they award high performing individuals with newly found power and fame, but they also boasted a plethora of Spirit Beasts, some of which were capable of taking on an entire army giving them a certain degree of protection. To those that were considered to be outlaws in the modern age, the Black Mask headquarters was basically heaven on earth.
Criminals weren’t the only people that were attracted by the immense might of the Black Masks though. Fallen nobles that had lost everything in a territorial war. Impoverished paupers that had no other place to go. Denounced cultivators that had been expelled from the clans or sects. Thrill seekers that were bored of their mundane lives. And even rogue cultivators that were willing to go for a new challenge. People from all walks of life flocked to find the elusive Black Masks just so they could volunteer for a war that they didn’t start.
“When was the last time we saw so many applicants?” A logistics officer scratched his head and joked to his fellow comrade.
“Never…” The junior Shudra slapped the papers in his hand in amusement. “I thought that the attack on the Land of Dreams would have made people more repulsed… To think that it just attracted more weirdos.”
“Hehe, don’t call them weirdos. If they’re weird, then what are we?”
“Knights of the strange?”
“HA HA! That’s quite an accurate assessment!”
Scribbling down on the paper before him, the logistics officer slammed his pen down and walked over to his colleague. The office that they worked in had no windows and was best described as a cell. However, luxurious furniture filled the backdrop of the vast centre, making it quite conducive for working. Since no light could pass through, the officer couldn’t tell whether it was day or night and had to gulp down his morning coffee to keep his eyes open.
“The Allfather’s move this time is brilliant! We managed to wreck that dastardly Land of Dreams while showing the entire world that no place is safe from the Black Masks’ wrath! Also, we managed to trigger this wave of recruitment. With this Phase one of the Grand Plan is complete. No, since we got all the Spirit Beasts in the Kori Federation, we should be halfway through Phase two?”
“Hahaha! I really want to look at the faces of the Himmel Imperial Army! What kind of expression will those arrogant bastards make when they finally realise how powerful our organisation really is?!” The Shudra backed his friend’s claim with a maniacal smile. Like many that joined the Black Masks, the Shudra had a vendetta against the tyrannical Himmel Empire. Just because he wasn’t born into the right family and wasn’t ‘talented,’ they tossed him aside like he was cannon fodder.
However, with the blessings of the Allfather, the Shudra had been reborn. With his newly added power, the Shudra felt like he was capable of taking on those Imperial bastards that treated him as a disposable tool.
The logistics officer smiled and allowed his colleague to gloat. The Black Masks rarely scored a win against those they sought to destroy, hence it was understandable that his friend would be agitated. “All hail the Allfather!”
“All hail the Allfather!” A metallic clink could be heard as the two comrades brought their cups together. “Well… I’m not sure if the Allfather deserves all the credit on this one.”
“Hoho, what do you mean?”
“Haven’t you heard?” The Shudra looked at his colleague in shock. “The idea for the siege on the Land of Dreams was suggested by a new recruit that’s barely twenty years of age! He detailed which one of the Noble Beasts should have participated, how many troops were needed, and even which route was the best to take into the Kori Federation! He’s quite the hot topic!”
Junius’ credit didn’t get swept under the rug. When he first thought of the plan to use the noble beasts, it was merely an idea that had no substance. However, the more Junius thought about it, the more he realised that it was the best path to take. Hence, to help convince the Allfather, Junius had to piece together an elaborate plan, from the logistics of the operation, to how the Spirit Beasts would move into the Kori Federation.
After pitching it to a high-ranking Brahmin who had direct contact with the Allfather, to his complete surprise, the Allfather praised the idea and even given Junius a commanding position during the operation. Always one to rise to the occasion, Junius took this opportunity and ran with it. He planned for Murasaki the Arachne, to clear out the Main Hub, while Ao the World Serpent would secure the path for the underwater crafts that ferried the hundred thousand Spirit Beasts to move unhindered.
Junius also scouted for the most covert possible location that the beast horde can move under the shadows, while also planning decoy points for their enemies to destroy. Sacrificing a portion of the Black Masks army as well as ten thousand Spirit Beasts, the young tactician had all but guaranteed the safe passage of the beast horde, allowing the Allfather’s plans to advance smoothly to Phase two.
Already being recognised by the Allfather was a feat in itself. However, Junius’ careful planning and superior foresight had basically turned him into a rockstar within the Black Masks overnight. Not to mention, he was one of the youngest ever cultivator to gain the coveted Black Mask, making him a rare talent even by the criminal syndicate’s standards.
“His fame is already rivalling that of the Crimson Flower and the Drake of Despair! If he continues to move at this pace, I’m sure he will become a figurehead for the syndicate in the near future!”
“Such praise is rare from you…” The logistics officer rubbed his chin and thought deeply about the new rising talent. “That boy must be the real deal… Don’t tell me, you’re trying to enter his faction?”
“Perhaps! A leader of his smarts is rare in this organisation, where the majority are just uncouth outlaws.” The Shudra sneered when he recalled his own faction’s leader. “If we join his faction when he’s young, we can gain his trust much easier!”
The logistics officer rested his index finger on his chin and seriously thought about his prospects. Although the Black Masks seemed to be unified under the Allfather, faction and tribal mentality still existed. Many had joined the Black Masks as a group, such a Vellan and the remnant members of the Awter Clan. Some even joined existing factions that had powerful Brahmins to lead the charge.
Like any other organisation in history, there were some internal conflicts between the major factions, and for the most part, the Allfather allowed the camps to fight. As long as they remember that they are serving the greater cause of the Black Masks and no lasting damage was done, the Allfather had no issue at them going at each other’s throats.
Nonetheless, the internal conflicts had caused many neutrals in the syndicate to choose sides. While Junius’ faction was somewhat in its infancy, there were still some high-levelled cultivators within its ranks. Not to mention, there was the rising star that was Junius, who was bound to become a general in the future. Switching to his side early on wasn’t that bad of an idea.
“What was his name again? The boy that made plans to conquer the Land of Dreams?” Sinking deeper into Mephistopheles temptations, the logistics officer edged in closer.
“Hehe, I knew you’d be interested!” The Shudra smiled and leaned in closer to his colleague.
“Due to his accomplishments, he was given a moniker by all who knew of his exploits! Similar to that of the Crimson Flower! They now call him…” Pausing for dramatic effect, the Shudra face was now inches away from his friend’s ears. “They now call him, the Awter Blade! The sword that carves the path for the Allfather!”
“Junius? Junius? Are you alright?”
Unaware that he had become the target of two egotistical maniacs, the viridian-haired youth was going about his typical day as a newly-inducted Shudra. However, unlike most days, he wasn’t out on the field or slogging away behind a desk formulating plans. Junius was currently following one of the top Brahmins in the syndicate down an opulent path.
The Black Masks had always been a secret and mysterious organisation. To achieve this, they didn’t live in extravagant palaces and instead stayed in underground caverns where the light could barely reach. Sometimes, they would even set up camp in the desolate wilderness, where no one would ever achieve in their lifetimes.
Junius was no exemption to that rule. Ever since he began living with the Black Masks, Junius had been moving from bunker to bunker with little to no contact with the outside world. The food that he ate was normally stale, and the apartments that he stayed in barely had any amenities. Of course, there was the odd day where he could leave the grey buildings behind when he went to a populated area for a mission, but they were few and far between.
Hence, when he was first led to this palace that was filled to the brim with luxury, Junius didn’t know what to feel. If the Constable Headquarters back at Chilyoja Waypoint was a booming hub, then the palace was a divine network of busy connections working overtime to complete their objectives. Just the size of one hall was equivalent to that of a hundred Mushinkeis and the thousands of statues, paintings, murals and sculptures that decorated the area could easily bankrupt the average tycoon.
“No, I’m just a little bit overwhelmed…” Junius shook his head with his jaw dropped. “So this… Is the true headquarters of our organisation…”
The Brahmin nodded as pride filled his chest. “That’s right! Normally, only Brahmins and trusted members of the syndicate get to enter this area. Over ninety per cent of the Black Masks don’t even know that this place exists! Honestly, I’m a little jealous of you, young Junius…”
Teasing Junius with a mischievous grin, the Brahmin nudged on the young man’s shoulder playfully.
“Please… Not only are you more handsome and powerful, but you’re also one of the only Spirit Emperors in the organisation! How could I even compare to you?”
“HAHAHA!!! So that’s the glib tongue that made the innocent Shia go to her knees!!!” The Brahmin slapped Junius on his back with praise. The more he looked at the youth, the more he liked him. Not only did he have a good head on his shoulders, but Junius was also one of the most talented juniors among the new recruits. Give him two decades, and the Brahmin was sure that Junius would be able to attain the final mask that was coveted by all in the syndicate.
“Senior, your praise is too painful to bear…”
“You’d better get used to it! Once you greet the Allfather, more praise will be coming your way!”
Junius wasn’t in the headquarters of the most wanted organisation in the world for a sightseeing tour. Once the plan to utterly decimate the Land of Dreams worked, Junius was summoned by the Allfather himself, shocking the foundations of the entire syndicate. There had never been a case where the Allfather personally demanded the presence of a mere Rank 30 Spirit Adept.
“Speaking of the Allfather…” Junius suddenly got butterflies in his stomach. “Am I really going to meet him face to face?”
“Of course not!” The Brahmin immediately denied the young man’s claim. “Not even I had met him in person before. In truth, the only beings that might have direct contact with the Allfather would be the Nine Coloured Noble Beasts!”
“So, how am I going to meet him?” Junius was confused. Wasn’t he supposed to have an audience with the Allfather? How could they meet if they didn’t see one another face-to-face?
“Well… It’s better for you to see it. I can’t really put it into words… That experience…”
Not sure how to feel, Junius raised his brows and continued to follow the Brahmin. No matter what he’s going to see, there’s one thing that’s for certain. Junius’ destiny will be tremendously altered through that one visit that he will have with the mighty Allfather.