Himmel Empire. Imperius Academy.
A full week had passed since the Second Army retreated from the Land of Dreams and the public was now in the midst of cooling down from the overwhelming heat of the short conflict. Although life in the Capital wasn’t that affected, many citizens were already gearing up for war and had holed up in the safety of their own abodes. However, now that the conflict has ended the majority of those who went into hiding came out of their burrows and resumed with their regular lives.
The students of Imperius Academy were no exception. Some of the more hot-blooded youths had mentally prepared themselves to be drafted into the military where they would repel the menace that was the Black Masks. If not for the overall ban that Principal Erudito made, perhaps half the school would become desolate as all of the students would have enlisted. Fortunately, after the Second Army retreated and declared that the war was temporarily suspended, the rowdy students continued to their mundane lives of cultivation and study.
Nonetheless, the trigger had been fired. The massacre in the Main Hub had instantly become the most well-known story in recent history and millions of people begun to condemn and despise the Black Masks. The elder generation couldn’t wait to rip the Allfather and his goons limb from limb, while the younger generation couldn’t wait to grow up and do the exact same thing.
For better or for worse, the students in Imperius Academy doubled their efforts in cultivation, particularly in increasing their combat skills. To destroy the Black Masks, they needed to become the most elite force the world has ever seen. Even though it had brought him joy that his students were working hard, Principal Erudito didn’t know how to feel now that over half of the academy were working towards the goal of war. Unlike those greenhorns, Principal Erudito had experienced first hand how terrible the flames of war were.
The constant bloodshed, seeing how their comrades fall before their eyes… These were all aspects of war that was unsuited for a child’s eyes. Principal Erudito would have much rather his students complete their studies before choosing to enter the military track. That way, he could at the very least trained some students to become scholars or researchers that were stored in the back.
“The atmosphere in the school has changed…” Shin mumbled to himself. The gym had almost always been empty, was now filled to the brim and squeezing into it was near impossible. Common walkways which were generally used by couples to stroll had turned into running tracks with dozens of students running past one another. Even the air in the classrooms was different.
A typical day in class was quite laid-back. The teacher would teach leisurely while the students would listen in without a care in the world. In fact, some students might even take a nap due to the relaxed environment that Imperius Academy had created. However, now that the news of the Main Hub had broken, almost all of the teenagers in the academy had a burning fire in their eyes.
“It has been this way since they found out about the Land of Dreams.” Kanari helped to fill in the blanks. Shin had been away for quite some time, after all. “The seniors have it the worst. They were there at the Land of Dreams, but they weren’t able to help those innocent men, women and children. I’ve heard that some of them had even dropped out of school to volunteer in the Second Army.”
“Quite the patriotic bunch, huh?” Shin sighed. Even if his seniors were there, what could they have done? When Shin toured the massacred town, he saw thousands of decapitated corpses. Whoever or whatever had done the deed, wasn’t stoppable by just a few hot-headed teenagers.
“Honestly, they should just stay in school. War is ruthless…”
“Yeah…” Kanari agreed with the young boy’s claim. “Speaking of which, you’re the only one who survived both Aldrich’s Keep and the Land of Dreams right? Wouldn’t that make you the most experienced military man in the academy?”
Shin raised his eyebrow at Kanari’s quib. “Don’t joke around, Kanari. I’ll never join the army.”
“Well, it’s the truth that you’re more experienced than anyone here. Perhaps you could lead a seminar talking about your experiences against the Black Masks. I’m sure that it’ll sell out.”
Shin rolled his eyes and decided to ignore the talkative black-haired girl. Ever since that day where they cried their hearts out in Shin’s room, Kanari had been sticking to the boy like glue. Of course, it was nowhere near the realm of Shizen, who had literally embraced Shin for almost an hour crying out about his ‘water source,’ but it wasn’t far-fetched to claim that they meet each other for hours every day.
Kanari would bring notes and goodies to Shin’s home, hoping to rehabilitate him out of his room. Never liking the feeling of owing someone, Shin swore that he would repay Kanari someday, which was something that greatly delighted the ethereal beauty but caused a great deal of frustrations for Elrin.
If Elrin and Kanari were racing to get Shin’s signature to join their organisations, Kanari would be leading by leaps and bounds. Of course, since Shin wasn’t joining any of them, the race was almost entirely useless, but there was no doubt that Shin and Kanari shared the closer relationship now.
“The Black Masks… I wonder how they even got their strength in the first place.” Kanari wondered out loud. “The Allfather is powerful, and they have at least four Tier 9 Spirit Beasts in their midst. God knows how much more they’re hiding from us.”
“Yeah, I also thought it didn’t make sense,” Shin replied with a hapless expression. “When Junius’ father targeted me, he released a torrent of black mana, which I could only assume is the Allfather’s. All I felt back then was a dread of life and a bubbling desire for accomplishment.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Honestly, I can’t say…” Shin shook his head. He couldn’t really put the feeling that he had into words due to how foreign it felt. “The Allfather seemingly came out of nowhere. How is it possible that an entity like him could remain in the shadows for so long?”
“You’re right… If there was someone as powerful as him, there should be some indication throughout the years. It doesn’t make sense for no one to know of his might. Especially since he amassed over four Tier 9 Spirit Beasts.” Kanari added her own opinions with a frown. The Allfather had a might equivalent to that of a Spirit Saint, an entity whose numbers were so scarce in the modern world that the number could be counted with the fingers of two hands. Yet, not only has he evaded detection, but he had also amassed a considerable following, one that could match some of the greater organisations of the world.
“One thing’s for sure… The Black Masks, the Allfather, Junius… They must all be brought to justice.” Shin gritted his teeth as his eyes flashed with determination. When Kanari consoled him and told him that it was imperative to stay true to his goal, Shin had renewed his soul. Now more than ever before, Shin felt a strong responsibility to take on the Black Masks and bring justice for all those poor victims that were massacred by them.
“I wholeheartedly agree.” Kanari beamed in delight when she saw the resolute expression that Shin had. Just days before, the boy’s eyes had no light and he could hardly muster up the strength to leave his bed. It was through her intervention that Shin managed to get up onto his feet, and she couldn’t be more proud.
“Let’s go meet the rest. Shizen has been bothering me over the past month, so I’m glad that you finally returned. Now that he gets to drink your ‘juice,’ he has finally stopped pestering me!”
“Urgghh…” Shin cringed at the forbidden word, forcing Kanari to burst into laughter.
‘If only these days could continue on forever…’ Kanari thought as she pulled the reluctant Shin straight towards the regular meeting point of their group.
After school, before Shin could find his way back into his cultivation chambers, a summon had come to his doorstep. Principal Erudito had called for Shin, Kanari and Elrin to see him in his office, much to the surprise of the three youths. Even though they weren’t sure of what was going to happen, the three still gathered together and visited the bronzed-faced scholar’s office.
“Principal Erudito? This is Shin.”
Creaking the heavy wooden doors open, Shin was stunned to see the three faces that waited for them in the office. Principal Erudito was seated at his desk as he usually was, but his prominent face had been deflated, possibly due to the high amount of stress and pressure that he was under. On his left, the second-in-command, Vice-Principal Hirda was similarly fatigued. Countless sleepless nights and the overwhelming workload had taken its toll on the ordinarily resilient Spirit Emperor. However, what truly shocked Shin wasn’t the state of the two highest authorities in the academy, but the presence of the third figure.
“Master! What are you doing here?”
Shin had seen Lady Seph only a handful of times after she left him in the mansion. Being a Divine Healer that was stationed in the Himmel Empire, she was the best-suited person to assist the Second Army in the fight against the Black Masks. Even though she hated the Imperial Army, Lady Seph couldn’t let the Black Masks run rampant, especially after finding out about the massacre in the Land of Dreams.
Being a fangirl of Spirit Immortal Dream, Lady Seph couldn’t stand it when the Black Masks desecrated the holy land just to further their agendas. Hence, calling a temporary truce, the Spirit Venerate broke her rule of assisting the military in hopes of thoroughly eradicating the Black Masks. Alas…
“The Black Masks have already escaped. No one knows where their beast horde has disappeared to in the Kori Federation. We have already lost the first battle.” Lady Seph bit her lip in annoyance. She had joined hands with her enemy to destroy the greater evil, and yet, it was all for nought. “The joint operation to take out the Black Masks have temporarily been put to a halt.”
“I see…” Shin took a deep breath in and thought about the repercussions for the failure.
Now that the Black Masks have over a hundred thousand Spirit Beasts in the Kori Federation, Shin was almost sure that the tragedies of Aldrich’s Keep, Frie Mountain and the Land of Dreams would continue to repeat itself. The question was, was there anything that could be done to prevent such a calamity?
“Don’t worry, the three superpowers have finally woke up.” Guessing the cause of Shin’s frown, Lady Seph assured his concerns. “The three superpowers are planning a global summit, where they will bring in all the major powers in the world. Representatives from the Himmel Empire, Kori Federation and the Lantis Republic would all be attending. Not to mention the Healer’s Association would be dispatching a senior team as well. Mercenary Guild, Blacksmith’s League, and many more. It’s going to be the biggest summit in modern history!”
At Lady Seph’s words, even Kanari and Elrin were shocked. They knew that something big was just about the horizon, but they never expected it to reach this degree. Looks like the Black Masks have finally stepped on the wrong toes this time. Even if they had four Primordial Beasts instead of Tier 9, there was no way that they could resist the full retaliation of the entire world.
“So why are we called here?” Kanari finally got to the crux of the issue.
“In a place where all the major powers are gathered, they would all like to flex some of their muscles.” Lady Seph explained. “However, they can’t go head to head after all. There will be Spirit Venerates and Spirit Emperors leading the talks, and having them compete in a friendly competition would spell catastrophe for the environment.”
“Are you saying that…” Shin widened his eyes as he realised what his Master was getting at.
“That’s right. Almost all of the powers attending would bring their brightest disciples to compete while they finalise the talks. Not only would they give the younger generation a chance to experience what it’s like to attend a diplomatic meeting, but they could also show how good their tutelage really is.” Lady Seph let out a wry smile and mischievously stared at the top three ranked of their year.
“So how about it? Do you want to attend the summit?”