The Land of Dreams. ???????
A barren expanse, a soulless plain, a divine heritage. All of these were descriptions that aptly fitted the famed Land of Dreams. It didn’t have any resources, nor did it have any prominent civilizations that thrived there. Yet, just a mere five hundred years ago, this small land had made history and came close to toppling the fragile balance of the three major superpowers.
Once a powerhouse in the international stage, many of the gorgeous buildings that stood had been reduced to rubble. Returned back to mother nature, not many would venture into the numerous ruins that were littered all around the country.
“That fucking Himmel Empire… Why must they come and ruin all the fun?!” An exasperated cry echoed out in the emptiness of the land. “Now we can’t proceed as planned!”
Inside of an abandoned, destroyed house, a few figures were gathered about in the dining area, each one with their own expression. Cyphia, the top courtesan had a nervous face while Star Face had rid himself of the disgustingly bright smile that he was known for. On the other side of the room, a handsome viridian haired boy stood behind a Black Mask who bore the mark of a crescent moon. His look was placid, and no one could really tell what he was thinking.
“On the surface, it looks like they’re only conducting a joint training exercise, but the timing is too coincidental…” The Kshatriya’s flat voice sounded out. “Ever since the fall of Aldrich’s Keep, the Himmel Empire has been keeping an eye on all of our operations. It would be safe to assume that information about this one had been compromised.”
“We have a rat?” Cyphia treaded dangerous waters with her annoyed tone.
“We can’t be sure… That’s why I asked only the two of you to join us today. We checked the both of you, and you’re clean.” Junius came out with his own explanation.
“You investigated us behind our backs?” Star Face raised his eyebrows. Instead of feeling angry that someone came snooping in his backdoor, he was surprised that the Black Masks had infiltrated his defences that easily.
“I hope you won’t take offence… We had to be a hundred percent sure.” Junius smiled as he bowed. Evidently, he didn’t feel guilty at all that he invaded someone else’s privacy.
“No, I understand… That’s how criminal syndicates worked after all…” The corners of Star Face’s mouth twitched as he addressed the boy who was at least a decade younger than him. For some reason, it seemed like the viridian-haired youth held more power than the Kshatriya that sat before him. “So now what? Are we going to give up on the operation?”
“Of course not! We can proceed as planned. Based on our intelligence, the joint training session would only last a month. During that time, we can just lie low, and slow our progress down.”
“Won’t it be safer to not proceed at all during that one month?” Cyphia added. She was just a frail Spirit Adept and had minimal experience in close combat. If a fight truly broke out against the military of the Himmel Empire, she had serious doubts on whether she could protect herself.
“That’s a good idea, Cyphia, but after some consideration, we can’t simply halt all operations in the area, especially at Mort Bay.” Junius patiently explained. “Even if we don’t do anything, traces of our operation would still remain. Thus, what we need to do is cover our tracks so much so that not even the most sensitive nose would know what’s up.”
“So this month would be clean-up?” Star Face interjected. His strong arms were in full view as he folded them lazily.
“That’s right, senior. However, that’s not all. We would lie low, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be doing anything at all. Our organisation hopes that the two of you could go undercover in the main hub of the Land of Dreams, just to monitor everything that’s happening in the city.”
“Hoho… And risk our lives for your cause?” Star Face narrowed his eyes. As a mercenary, he had done some of the most atrocious deeds back in his day. However, there was a line that he would never cross when undertaking a job, and that was risking his own life. As much as he liked money, what good was gold when he couldn’t be alive to spend it.
“I would hope not! We still need your expertise in the years to come!” Sensing that the conversation was going the wrong way, Junius raised his hands to explain. “All we need you to do is listen to the whispers in the Land of Dreams. Being a mercenary and a woman of the night, I’m sure you would get to the heart of society much easier than any of the Black Masks. We don’t need you to fight anyone, let alone risk your lives. That I assure you.”
“… You have a glib tongue, has anyone told you that?” Cyphia chuckled and smiled at Junius.
“I don’t think so… We all play with the cards we have.”
“Hehe, I’m starting to like you more and more!” Turning to the muscular man that sat beside her, Cyphia tried to understand what was going on in his head. “Star Face, what say you?”
“Senior Kshatriya… Is that the will of the syndicate?” Instead of giving a direct reply, Star Face addressed the most influential person in the room, who had been awfully quiet during the entire exchange.
“Junius speaks for all of us.”
“I see… I accept this new mission of yours for one additional condition. When you find the rat, give their portion of pay to me.” In the end, it all boiled down to the money.
“That’s all? Hmmm, that should be fine.” The Kshatriya replied. “I assume that Miss Cyphia would want the same?”
Instantly turning solemn, the lady of the night considered all of her options. She was already given a share that could make nobles drool in envy, and a pay rise would essentially mean that she could retire and spend the rest of her life in luxury. “Star Face… Share?”
“Good, so it’s decided!” The Kshatriya clapped his hands at the start of the new union. However, almost instantly, his voice turned cold as he leaned in on the table. “The Black Masks has spent a significant amount of resources in this operation… I hope there would be no more birds that sing.”
“Don’t worry about that, senior…” The two Spirit Adepts gulped down a mouthful of saliva and bowed to the Black Mask in the room, before taking their leave.
“Junius… What do you think? Can we trust them?” Once they were left all alone, the Kshatriya turned and addressed the viridian-haired youth that stood behind him.
“Trust? Of course not. There’s no one in this world that you can trust a hundred per cent. However, I believe in the personalities. Based on intelligence, Cyphia has been looking for a way out from the underground, while Star Face is a money-nabbing whore that takes almost any job that paid the right amount of price.” Junius carefully explained why he called only the two of them here today. “With the amount of gold we are putting on the table, they would fight tooth and nail for us. Furthermore, if they do get caught, we could just silence them.”
“I share your sentiments.” The Kshatriya rubbed the bottom of his chin. After a while, he stood up and tapped the young adult on his shoulder with praise. “Look at how far you’ve come… I’m sure your father would have been very proud.”
“Thank you, senior…” Junius bowed down. The Kshatriya was a close friend of his father’s, and the moment Junius stepped foot onto the Kori Federation, he had been looking after him as if he were his own nephew.
“Go and have a nice long rest. We still don’t know the true intentions of the Himmel Empire so we can’t be too complacent. I will need you to work harder from tomorrow onwards.”
“Of course, senior!”
The Land of Dreams. The Main Hub.
The heavy footsteps of horse hooves shook the ground as the entire brigade slowly came to a halt. Moving out from the Himmel Empire, the students of Imperius Academy, as well as the military men that chaperoned them, all found a sweet spot to set up camp. Having gained permission from the government of the Land of Dreams beforehand, the brigade could quickly simulate an experience akin to that of marching in a real war.
The year four, five and six seniors all hurriedly moved about with the instruction of their military seniors. Men lifted heavy loads about while women helped to construct the areas. Already delegated to their own positions, many students helped out to the best of their ability. As much as the joint training exercise was packaged as a vacation trip, only those who had braved through it before knew that it was anything but a walk in the park.
While their seniors were suffering, Shin, Isadore and Elrin were on the carriage that led straight to the heart of the Land of Dreams. Since they were ‘officially’ assisting the head of the auxiliary department, who happened to be Chief Logistics Officer for Imperius Academy in the expedition, they had to follow Madam Warulee into the central hub where she would shake hands and rub shoulders with the elite in the Main Hub.
The enormous metallic gates creaked opened as passageway towards the Main Hub was revealed. With their identities, there was no need for excessive procedures at the checkpoint. All that Madam Warulee needed to do was show her permit to enter and they were already through.
“So this is the Land of Dreams…” Shin gaped in awe as he stared out of the window.
He had seen many affluent cities in his time at the Capital. In fact, since he was friends with Elrin, he had even seen the most expensive of properties. However, the buildings in the Main Hub let out a particular type of charm, giving it a sense of mystique that was uncommon for an urban environment.
Unlike the hundreds of ruins littered about the country, the Main Hub had been rebuilt with the help of the three superpowers, making it one of the most modern cities in the world. High-rises which were rare to find in the Capital seemed to be the common theme here. The roads were expertly built with each path strictly designated for pedestrian, commerce, and government use respectively.
Breathing in the crisp and fresh air, Shin felt his mind fall into a state of peace. Even though the hustle and bustle of the crowd were annoying, the black-haired youth felt that the Main Hub seemed to be an excellent place for him to live in.
“Yeap, the Land of Dreams… I only read about it in the history books. I didn’t expect for it to be so clean…” Elrin rested her forehead on the window and observed her surroundings. Everyone knew of the tragedy that fell upon the Land of Dreams five centuries ago, so it was fair to assume that the Main Hub would have been reduced to a pile of rubble.
“It’s quite a nice place right?” Madam Warulee smiled. “However, do try to behave yourselves inside of these walls. Since its a neutral location, any sort of conflict is prohibited within its walls. So just remember to keep your hands to yourselves.”
“Of course, why would we want to stir up any trouble? We’re here to assist you!” Shin laughed.
Madam Warulee rolled her eyes. “Do you honestly think that I would believe that bullshit cover story you told? I know that you have some motive for coming on the joint training exercise, but I won’t bother you too much… As long as you don’t bring trouble to me, my eyes would be looking the other way.”
“…” The faces of the three youths froze. Looks like their chaperone had long had her suspicions.
“Alright, so what are you going to do? I don’t really need to bring you to see the Premier of the region, so I’ll let you have some free time. I assume you already have the money.” Shooting a glance at the white-haired girl whose family had enough money to buy the entire country three times over, Madam Warulee let out a despondent sigh.
“We will be visiting Spirit Immortal Dream’s personal laboratory… Other than that, we have no plans.”
“Ha! Like I’ll believe that. But well, if you’re going to the personal lab, you should go west. I’ll let the driver know. Once he drops me off at the Premier’s mansion, he’ll bring you there.”
“Madam Warulee… Thank you.” Shin smiled and offered his gratitude.
“Hmph!” The middle-aged woman snorted but didn’t continue on her speech. However, based on her agilely tapping feet, one could assume that she was in a good mood. Even though she had failed to poach Shin over to her course, befriending him was a great alternative. Not only was he the disciple of the famed Venerate Seraphim, but if he grew up well, he would undoubtedly become one of the best Spirit Users in the world.
“Don’t mention it. Just remember to buy me some souvenirs from that old place. Also, be back within three hours! I don’t want to be waiting for too long!”