Imperius Academy, also known as the Imperial Military Academy, is an age-old institution with ties to both the royal family as well as the military of the Himmel Empire. In exchange for the numerous benefits that the Imperials bestow onto it, Imperius Academy trains young geniuses and prepares them to become great men and women of the Empire. However, there was also a need to instil a sense of patriotism into their young minds.
Thus, to kill two birds with one stone, Imperius Academy would partner with the military for some joint training sessions. Although these training sessions only occur once a year, it was mandatory for all fourth-years and above to attend, and many of them treat it as a field trip that lasted for a few weeks. In particular, since this year’s joint training session was held outside of the Himmel Empire, the students attending were exhilarated, and who could blame them?
The Land of Dreams was a legendary location that boasted a considerable amount of history. It was the birthplace of aether production, the area where the nineteenth Spirit Immortal resided a significant portion of her life in, and also, the place where the worst massacre in human history was conducted. Once a proud nation that could have easily contested with the three major superpowers, the current Land of Dreams was now reduced to a popular tourist destination where neutral parties met to discuss political affairs. In fact, there were already students in the academy that had planned out their tour route in the famed grounds.
However, Shin and Isadore weren’t there to sightsee. To trace the Black Mask syndicate, Shin had come with the intention of investigating more about the whereabouts of Junius, and if he were frank, just foiling whatever plans the Black Masks had was sufficient in his eyes. He might be weak now, but at the very least, he could get one foot in the door when it came to hunting down his enemies.
As the day of reckoning drew closer, the fourth to sixth years all felt a wave of bubbling excitement, especially the newly initiated fourth years. Although a typical joint training exercise had little to no risks, it was still a fresh experience for the eighteen-year-olds, who had mostly been living in the Capital their entire lives. Naturally, there were some that didn’t like that they were forced away from the academy, as they preferred to stay in the comfort of their own homes, but those people were few and far between. Even Shin, who didn’t feel any loyalty to the Himmel Empire, could sense their burning patriotism.
“I never have seen so many students gather since the year-end tournaments…” Shin muttered out in awe.
The joint training exercise would bring the entire cohort of fourth to sixth years to train with a renowned experienced battalion. The training would include military drills, lessons on surviving in the wilderness, how to disseminate information, and a plethora of other skills that would be useful for the student’s future career.
“It can’t be helped, the joint training session is mandatory after all…” Isadore calmly replied.
Being sophomores, Shin and Isadore had no business attending the training. It was only through Isadore’s deep connections that the duo somehow managed to secure their positions in the supply lines. Walking through the bustling crowd, the silver-haired boy carefully observed the faces of their peers. A scene where a year five senior was bidding farewell to his year three girlfriend made it seem like he was witnessing a soap opera while the fiery elation of some seniors made it appear like they were heading for war.
“Shin, have you considered what we’re going to do in the Land of Dreams?” Isadore sighed and questioned his dear buddy. However, when no answer came back, the youth turned to Shin only to find the black-haired youth building sandcastles in the air. “Shin?”
“Hmmm? Sorry, I zoned out there. What did you say?”
“…” Isadore furrowed his brows. “Is something bothering you? Ever since you came back from your Master’s house, you have always been in a daze. Are you worried about the safety of the trip?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. I’m fine now.” Shin smiled. “What was your question?”
The silver-haired youth folded his arms and carefully examined his friend’s expression. As much as he wished to dig deeper, his curiosity was a non-issue compared to the task at hand. “I asked, have you considered what we’re going to do in the Land of Dreams.”
“Right…” Shin nodded and took out his notebook. Flipping the pages until he found a black marking, the youth handed the manual over to Isadore and begun to explain. “Based on the information that you gave me, the Black Masks’ operation is within the Land of Dreams, and there are signs that it would be going down in the east right?”
Shin confirmed his intelligence. Although he had no idea how Isadore gained his information, it has rarely been inaccurate. Taking out a pencil, he circled the first itinerary item on the list. Typically, a joint training exercise would be two weeks long. However, due to the added distance, it had been extended to a month.
“For the first week, we must follow the supply lines to the heart of the Land of Dreams. No matter how urgently we want to find the Black Masks, we can’t escape bureaucracy. Let the adults do the talking while we climatise ourselves to the new environment.”
“Hoho, you’re thinking of going on a holiday for the first week?” A happy grin crept up the face of Isadore as he teased his good friend.
“Well, Master said that since I’m going to the Land of Dreams, I should visit one place.”
“What is it?”
“Spirit Immortal Dream’s abandoned laboratory.”
After the collapse of the great nation, the majority of the city had fallen into ruin. Nonetheless, the fallen country was still a great attraction. Many conspiracy theorists flocked to the decrepit land, in hopes of cracking the code that was Spirit Immortal Dream.
Why did the youngest Spirit Immortal in history, widely regarded to be the most prodigious human that ever lived, annihilate the country that she had worked so hard to build? What was the vile research that the ministers uncovered in her laboratory that led to all of them rebelling against their founder? Were there any answers left in the run-down nation?
The questions that plagued the amateur investigators just happened to be the greatest mystery of modern history, and to be completely honest, even some Spirit Saints on the continent wanted to know the answers. Hence, instead of fighting a war to gain control over the Land of Dreams, the three superpowers decided to share the grounds equally and allowed anyone who was interested in its history to carefully investigate as they pleased.
In her youth, Lady Seph was fascinated with the tales of Spirit Immortals, and two of her greatest inspirations were Spirit Immortal Hippocrates and Spirit Immortal Dream. Both of them led drastically different lives, but in the end, they grasped eternity and entered the Immortal realm above. Back in the day, the young Lady Seph had once visited the personal laboratory of Spirit Immortal Dream, in hopes of unravelling some of the mysteries that plagued her as well as the rest of the world. Unfortunately, she was too awestruck by the remnants of the infamous Immortal, that had been turned into a museum, to do much digging.
“Ah, that place… Yeah, it’s a hotspot for tourists though.”
“I guess so… But isn’t it intriguing?” Shin playfully beamed. “The workplace of a Spirit Immortal, not to mention the most talented one in history?”
“If you put it that way, I’ll also get pumped up…” Isadore nodded his head. “Alright, for the first week, we’ll take it easy. What about the remaining three weeks?”
“The remaining three weeks, the joint training session would commence, and we would simply be ‘guarding’ the supplies. So there’s plenty of time for us to sneak out to explore. Based on your information, I have circled our thirteen places of interest in the Land of Dreams.”
Flipping to the next page, Shin revealed a map that he had hidden within the pages of his notebook. Unfolding it, the black-haired youth pointed out the places where he deemed suspicious.
“We could investigate each location one by one. With our speeds, we should be able to cover all of the hotspots within the three weeks.” Shin excitedly explained. “Unless you have any more intelligence that could change our plan.”
“So far, there hasn’t been any more details… What I do know is the Black Masks wouldn’t be acting alone this time. Instead, they might hire mercenaries from the Kori Federation or the Himmel Empire to do their bidding.”
“Why is that?” The black-haired youth took the notebook out of Isadore’s hands and securely kept it in his bag. “Won’t it be safer if they used their own men?”
“Yes and no… If they never got caught, then yes it would be safer. But the Land of Dreams is a popular diplomatic location with thousands of tourists entering each day. To move in daylight, it wouldn’t be wise to parade their wealth of Spirit Adepts to Spirit Emperors. Furthermore, if mercenaries were the ones doing the deed, there would be less suspicion onto them.”
The Black Masks syndicate was a powerful criminal organisation that only brought in the best rogue cultivators that the world had to offer. Although they had an entire class of oppressed cultivators that would do the bidding of any of their superiors, they weren’t all that suitable for covert missions. Hence, to move in the light, there was a need to acquire outside help.
“That makes sense…”
“Of course, it is not definite. We might search the entire Land of Dreams and find nothing. Also, even if we did find a Black Mask, I doubt we would have the capability of taking them down.”
“You’re right…” Shin hunched forward and rested his face on his joined fingers. To even don the primary infamous mask, one had to be at least at the Rank 30 Spirit Adept realm. Shin was only in the Spirit Core realm, and Isadore was just a Spirit Apostle. If they pooled their strength together, they might have the chance to defeat one Shudra, but what if there was more than one of them?
It would be suicide. Yet, Shin was still determined to investigate more about the Black Masks. If he could even convince one of them to reveal some details about Junius or the remnants of the Awter Clan, he would be content.
“Alright, students! Get into your lines! We are about to head out now!” At the very head of the mass group, a suave teacher, who looked like he was in his forties, bellowed out for the students to get prepared.
In the distance, echoing sounds of hooves and wheels grinding could be heard as the ground started to tremble. If it was this sensation, it could only mean one thing.
“The brigade that would be travelling with us have arrived huh?” Shin narrowed his eyes. Before he gained permission to leave the Capital, he promised Lady Seph that he wouldn’t engage with anyone from the military. Even though it was easier said than done, Shin had no intention of breaking that promise.
“Let’s go visit the teacher that would be chaperoning us. I hope you have picked a good teacher. If we get someone like Mychael, I’ll be sure to run your head through the ground.” Shin threatened.
“Haha, don’t worry, I’m sure that you’ll be satisfied! By the way, how did Shizen and the rest take the news?”
“Of me leaving?”
“As you would expect, all of them asked to join. Even Kanari made quite a big fuss.” Recalling back to the first time he told them about his short ‘expedition,’ Shin let out a bitter smile. “It took a lot of convincing for me to calm them down…”
“Haha, I wish I was there!” Isadore beamed. “Too bad I had to prepare everything at the back-end…”
When the silver-haired youth first brought the issue up to Principal Erudito, it pleased the bronze-faced man greatly. Shin was a rather touchy subject for the principal. Based on his deal with Lady Seph, he was not to coerce the boy to join any military or political activities. However, Shin’s talent would unquestionably make him a great cultivator in the future, and should he defect to another nation, the consequences might be dire. Therefore, if Shin voluntarily joins the military exercise, perhaps it might instil a little bit of patriotism into his young heart.
Well, there was no way that the boy in question would allow it to happen though.
“That’s not important now” Shin glanced upwards to see the hordes of students forming lines in front of their supervisors. If the duo continued to talk, there was a good chance that they would be left behind. “Let’s hurry!”