“Shin? Can I come in?” Kanari knocked on the door with the softest voice that she could breathe out.
“Kanari?” A baffled voice came from the other end. Hearing the approaching footsteps, Kanari steadied herself for the insurmountable task that she had to accomplish.
When she first discovered of Shin’s plan to enter the Land of Dreams, Kanari was appalled by the entire idea. If it were up to her, she would have forced Shin to stay out of harm’s way until he joined the Highgarden Duchy formally. However, being the supportive friend that she was, Kanari was forced to smile as she waved a reluctant goodbye.
After recognising his overwhelming talent, Kanari knew that she had to be patient in poaching the youth over to her side. Besides, they had to spend almost five more years together in the academy, which gave Kanari plenty of time to work with the stubborn boy.
Thus, one could imagine her horror when she discovered that her bosom friend, Elrin, had managed to sneak out of the Capital alongside Shin in his crazy adventure. Initially, Kanari wanted to chase after the group as well, but every single aide around her advised her otherwise. Yes, Shin was an essential asset for her goals. However, there was no way that Kanari should put her own life at risk just for the sake of scoring a few points in Shin’s book.
With no other moves to make, the only thing that Kanari could do was wait patiently for the return of Shin, all while pleasing the boisterous Shizen and mentoring the twins in their studies.
In the beginning, Kanari was restless that Elrin would be spending a full month with Shin without her supervision, but being the optimist that she was, she saw an opportunity to bridge the academic gap that she had with the prodigious youth. After a few adjustments to her daily routine, Kanari soon became satisfied with her own advancements and couldn’t wait to see the look on Shin’s face when she beats him in the upcoming tests.
Regrettably, that image wasn’t to pass. When the news broke that the Land of Dreams was being overrun by the Black Masks, Kanari felt her heart sink. Doubly so when she found out that the Black Masks had sent out two Tier 9 Spirit Beasts to blitz their way through the Land of Dreams.
Immediately sending out her family’s intelligence officers, Kanari hoped that she would give the youth an added layer of protection. She knew that Isadore and Elrin would have their own protection detail, but to the best of her knowledge, Shin was mostly unguarded. Should anything happen to him, he was as good as dead against a Tier 9 Spirit Beast.
Thankfully, the worst case scenario never happened, and Shin was brought back to the Captial safely by Lady Seph. However, instead of returning back to the campus, Shin remained cooped up in his Master’s large mansion, unwilling to come into contact with the outside world.
Confused by the sudden shift in his behaviour, Kanari asked around, and it was only by chaining Elrin down to a chair that she finally unearthed every single detail of their trip.
‘I have to be delicate… Based on what Elrin said, Shin’s insistence on catching Junius had caused the deaths of the pair named Cyphia Dandrea and Garland Mull. Furthermore, Garland cursed Shin as he took his own life. If I’m not careful, this incident will become a mental demon that he would never overcome.’ Kanari took a deep breath in and placed on her most neutral expression as the doors swung open.
“Kanari? What are you doing here?”
“I can’t visit my friend?” Kanari tilted her head cutely. “Don’t worry, I’m here to deliver some notes. You’ve been out of the academy for almost a month and a half! I’m sure that you would want to see some of my homework.”
Professionally delivering the excuse she thought off before coming to the mansion, Kanari raised the hamper in her hands, revealing a pair of notebooks. “Also, I brought some snacks. You must have been sick of eating stale military food during your stay in the Land of Dreams. These highland grapes were freshly plucked yesterday. I’m sure it will suit your taste buds.”
“You didn’t have to…” Shin smiled bitterly and showed his friend into the room. Taking the hamper and placing it down on a nearby table, Shin took out one grape and popped it into his mouth. “You’re right, it tastes sweet.”
“Hehe, I’m glad you liked it.” Kanari carefully examined the contents of the lonesome room and heaved out a huge sigh.
The Shin that she knew was a methodical and organised guy. No matter the situation, he would always clean up after himself, never leaving himself in a pile of mess. Yet, with just one cursory look, Kanari could tell that the young boy didn’t bother with the chores during his two weeks alone. Clothes were thrown into one corner, bedsheets were so wrinkled that it wouldn’t be surprising if bugs lived in them, and finally, a potent musky stench of sweat tormented the empty room, so much so that Kanari was tempted to cover her nose.
“Shin, so how have you been?” Finding a comfy seat on a wooden stool nearby, Kanari turned to Shin and asked. “You’ve been quite hard to reach you know. I wanted to visit you sooner, but Lady Seph placed the strict ban of no visitors for one week. That really troubled Principal Erudito you know that?”
“Master did so?” The black-haired boy jumped in shock. He was wondering why no one from the academy came to bother him even though he had been essentially skipping school for two weeks. As it turned out, Lady Seph had really gone and threatened the bronzed-face scholar. “She really didn’t have to…”
Shin took the notes that Kanari had painstakingly written down for him and flipped through the pages. “Wow, you really advanced quite a bit in your studies… This material is for third years.”
“What? You already read the third year syllabus?”
“Yeah. I would be gone for over a month you know. So before I left, I read up as much as I possibly could and finished the second year syllabus. During the times where I was free in the Land of Dreams, I would read some minor notes on the third year syllabus.”
“And here I thought that I would have caught up to you.” Kanari made an indignant face. Of course, she was acting that all hope was lost and Shin saw right through her. After a few moments, the two burst out laughing.
“Hah… Thank you, Kanari.” Shin broke the ice.
“Thank me for what?”
“Since you’re here, I’m guessing you already knew what happened in the Land of Dreams. Even if Elrin and Isadore remained mum, you would probably send Spion to gather intelligence.” Shin accurately guessed the purpose of Kanari’s visit.
“…” Kanari’s lips twitched as she observed the young boy who was seated on his bed. Sighing deeply, the girl moved to the hamper and took out a small cheese wheel, placing it on the saucer that she prepared. Slicing two pieces out of the gigantic wheel, Kanari took one big bite while she offered the other to Shin. “Eat. It’s one of the best products that the Highgarden Duchy has to offer.”
“…” Shin was unsure where his friend was getting at, but he still obliged.
“Kanari… I know that it’s pointless to ask at this point, but how much do you know?”
“I know that you found out that Mort Bay was where the Black Masks were striking. I know that you had narrowly escaped the notorious World Serpent, and…” Kanari paused, unsure if it was in her place to mutter out those words.
“You know that I killed someone?” Shin completed the blanks with a wry smile.
“Yeah…” Kanari gritted her teeth.
But it’s not your fault! The man was a bad guy for teaming up with the Black Masks! Also, he killed himself! You didn’t kill him! Those words were on the tip of Kanari’s tongue, but she couldn’t bring herself to say those words. She knew that any consolation that she could give would merely be paper over the cracks. What she needed to do was to help Shin live with the deaths of the two mercenaries.
“Are you here to laugh at my pathetic state?”
“Of course not!” The ethereal beauty got the shock of her life. She was here to comfort him, not make fun of him! She would be in serious trouble if the boy misunderstood her kind intentions.
“Shin…” Kanari moved from her chair and joined Shin on his bed. “Was this your first time killing someone?”
The despondent youth flinched at Kanari’s sudden question. “Yeah… What about you, Kanari? Have you taken another’s life before?”
“???” Shin abruptly turned his head to look at the black-haired girl.
As the heiress of the Highgarden Duchy, Shin assumed that Kanari would be similar to Elrin and lived her days as a sheltered scion. Of course, his assumption was nowhere near reality.
“It happened when I first entered the Spirit Apostle realm… When my talent had become widely known, and no one questioned my right to take over the Duchy, my mother started to train me and taught me everything I needed to know about how about the roles and responsibilities as a Duchess.”
“In the beginning, it was simple actions such as how to manage the harvests and how to socialise in High Society.” Kanari’s eyes turned gloomy as she recalled her early days. “However, after a while, I learnt the true pains of being a noble…”
“As a noble, you are responsible for everything that happens on your turf. If there’s a natural disaster, you have to be there to aid those suffering. If there’s a deficit in the harvest, you must find a solution to brave through the winter. Also…” Kanari’s eyes quivered as she feared to reveal her next words. After all these years, she thought that she had gotten over it, but some scars just never heal.
“If someone does a crime, you have to be the one to mete out the punishment…”
“You mean!” Shin exclaimed as he realised what Kanari had gone through.
“Yeah… When I was thirteen, my mother made me execute someone who was on death row.”
“Could she?” Kanari finished the boy’s sentence. “My father said the same thing. But if I were to inherit the Duchy, it was an inevitable deed.” Kanari didn’t blame her mother at all. In fact, she was thankful for experiencing such a deed when she was that young. At the very least, if she honestly got into danger, Kanari would have the mental fortitude to really kill someone.
“As the lord of the land, there’s no way that I can keep my hands clean. Yes, I can hire executioners to do the deed, but that’s just passing the responsibility to someone else. Eventually, all the blood that sheds on my territory belongs to me.”
“Kanari…” For the first time, Shin saw a side to Kanari that he had never seen before. The amiable young girl had a vicious side to her. “You really are a noble.”
“Thanks for that.” Kanari smilingly replied. “Shin, there are times where you would have to kill your enemies. Your emotions don’t matter. If I didn’t kill the inmate on death row, he would have found a chance to escape and do more heinous deeds. The same logic applies the two mercenaries that committed suicide before you. They had helped the Black Masks to murder all those innocent lives in the Land of Dreams. If you didn’t stop them, they would have continued to do evil.”
“…” Shin bit his lip. He understood what Kanari was getting at, he really did. However, it didn’t change the pain in his heart.
“How? How did you manage to forget this pain?!” Finally breaking down, Shin wailed out in agony. He had heard numerous stories of soldiers breaking down after claiming their first life, and currently, he was on the verge of doing the exact same thing.
Kanari placed her left arm over Shin’s neck while her right hand pulled the boy’s waist closer to her.
“You don’t… You will never forget your first kill. You just have to learn to live with the pain and swear to remain convicted to your cause. That’s the only thing you can do.” Kanari’s eyes started to mist as she saw how feeble her friend had become. “For now… You can just cry it out.”
“Arghh!!! ARGHHHHH!!!” Bawling his eyes out, Shin sunk deeper and deeper into Kanari’s embrace, drenching her linen robes.
Right now, he wasn’t the young genius that shook the nation, and neither was he the brave soul that wished to combat the Black Masks.
Right now, he was just a boy seeking salvation…