“Who are you?”
That one question halted all sounds in the vibrant courtyard.
His heart racing at a million kilometres an hour, Shin’s face turned red, and a thousand beads of sweat dripped down his body, drenching his entire back in the process. Longyu Tian’s expression had become deadpan, and all kindness in her eyes had vanished entirely. If Shin lied in his answer, he was confident that the Spirit Saint would make appropriate measures to make him regret his actions.
Steeling his nerves, Shin gulped down a mouthful of saliva before raising his right palm up to his chest.
“Instead of telling you, it would be faster to show you, who I am…”
Shin closed his eyes and looked deep down into his Spirit Core. A cerulean light began to congregate from the depths of his soul as a scaly figure formed within his outreached palm. In an instant, the adorable Sovereign Koi reappeared in the material realm with a face full of playfulness and delight.
After six years of training, the Sovereign Koi had doubled its original size and was now equivalent to that of a common trout. Its scales now had a tinge of golden and silver hue, intensifying its overall cerulean colour multiple folds. Jiggling about in the air and flapping its fins, the Sovereign Koi turned to look at the black-haired woman in front of Shin with a glance of confusion. It felt some familiarity, but it couldn’t understand why…
“N-No way!!!” For the first time since she showed herself, Longyu Tian turned as pale as a sheet, completely blowing apart her aloof front that she had put on for Shin.
Almost instantaneously, the Spirit Saint’s eyes turned golden, and she intensely examined the cerulean Sovereign Koi in Shin’s hands. Her swift actions had made Shin, and his Spirit jerk back in shock, but her immense grip pulled the pair back into her midst.
Shin and the Spirit Saint’s faces were now inches away from each other, so much so that a stray warm breath would tingle their eyelids in a coy manner. While Shin was being perturbed by such an unnecessary distraction, Longyu Tian’s golden eyes permeated through every scale of the Sovereign Koi’s body, making it feel extremely jittery in the process.
Not willing to waste this chance, Longyu Tian’s body emitted out a golden light as a tremendous shadowy body began to form behind her. The figure was twice as large as a fully-grown adult tiger, but it had the flexibility to coil itself around the Spirit Saint as if it were a python enveloping its prey.
Just like that, the Golden Sovereign Koi, the most infamous Spirit in the entire Lantis Republic, had made its appearance in the Land of Dreams. Its four whiskers acted like an insects feelers and gently caressed the Sovereign Koi within Shin’s hands, and a dazzling celestial light shone from its forehead onto the Shin’s Spirit.
From an outsider’s perspective, it was as if a mother fish had been reunited with its long lost child. Of course, the reality was far more sinister. Bearing the Mark of the Celestial Dragon, and being a Rank 90 Spirit, the Golden Sovereign Koi was attempting to mark its dominance over the newborn Spirit, just like it always did. Whenever it revealed its power, all Spirits that were below its cultivation level would bow in reverence, as if they were subjects to its kingdom.
However, instead of feeling oppressed, the Sovereign Koi levitating above Shin’s palms revealed a delighted smile, seemingly refreshed by the wave of energy that was being supplied in its direction.
“T-This can’t be!!!” Longyu Tian nearly fell to the floor. Her eyes were shining with a mixture of fear and angst… And perhaps even a little glee. After becoming a Spirit Saint, she had washed her hands off any mortal matters, and there was little that could ever hope to faze her. Yet, at this point in time, she was acting as if she were a little girl in a candy shop.
“Sovereign Koi!!! And a power to resist my Mark!!! That’s why I couldn’t see past you!!! That’s why I was compelled to come and meet you!!!” Tightening her grip over Shin’s wrist, Longyu Tian slowly pulled the boy closer to herself, treating Shin like the most precious treasure in the whole world. “You have the Mark of the Celestial Dragon as well!!!”
“…” Against that intense fervour, Shin could only nod, not disagreeing with what the Spirit Saint had said.
Realising her folly, Longyu Tian released her hold on Shin and coughed twice in embarrassment. For a Spirit Saint to act in such an absurd manner, not to mention to a person that she had just met, it was unbecoming of her status. Nonetheless, Longyu Tian couldn’t contain her excitement and was smiling from ear to ear.
“Child, what’s your name?” All this while, Longyu Tian had yet to ask the most critical question.
“Shin…” The black-haired boy’s mouth twitched from side to side as if he were fighting some sort of internal battle. However, the conflict within him concluded in less than a second before he finally revealed his last name. “My name is Shin… Awter.”
Not Iofiel, but Awter. That was Shin’s real name that only a select few knew.
“Awter?!” Once again, Longyu Tian nearly dropped her jaw to the floor. “Awter… No that makes sense! To think that there was someone that survived that dreadful massacre…”
As the strongest and most influential cultivator of the Longyu Clan, Longyu Tian obviously knew the history that the Awter and Longyu Clan had. Sixteen years ago, when the Awter Clan was on the verge of extinction, the Longyu Clan had actually readied its arms to assist their distant kin. If not for the overwhelming opposition from the seven other ancient clans, as well as the threat of imminent war with the Himmel Empire, the Longyu Clan would have thoroughly annihilated the Frie Clan for killing off their brethren.
Her face turning tender, Longyu Tian brought Shin into her chest and started to comfort the boy. The earlier distance that she had built had all but crumbled down as she finally comprehended the blood ties that they had.
“Shin, tell me… How have you lived your life?” There were so many questions that Longyu Tian wanted to ask from Shin, but she had decided to learn more about the background of this young boy.
“I… Have no recollection of the Awter Clan…” Shin pushed the shoulders of the Spirit Saint away from his body and began to recount his life. “I was raised by the Frie Clan as an orphan. I didn’t know about the battle between the two clans until just recently.”
Shin opened up everything. The relationship he shared with the First Elder and the Instructor. How the orphans were ostracised in the Frie Clan by the Second Elder’s faction. The incident where the First Elder nearly tore the Clan apart due to the Second Elder’s assassination attempt on Shin. Being sent to Chilyoja Waypoint to become a healer under Lady Seph. His relationship with Junius and how he was ultimately corrupted to join the Black Masks alongside Vellan and the other remnants of the Frie Clan. Finally, Shin told the Spirit Saint the darkest part of his history. The moment where the Black Masks killed off Ariel and destroyed the hopes and dreams of Shin entirely.
“Shin…” Longyu Tian listened in, attentively. The boy in front her was barely sixteen-years-old, and yet he had the life experience that would trump any regular adult.
“You have suffered.” Longyu Tian brought the boy into her arms once more. This time, Shin didn’t resist. Although they had just met for the first time, there was a certain familiarity in her scent. He couldn’t describe it. It was as if a long lost puzzle piece that had been missing in his life had finally been filled.
Shin snuggled in the woman’s embrace for ages before coming to his wits. Pushing the Spirit Saint away, the youth blushed in bashfulness and bowed down at a ninety-degree angle.
“Don’t be.” Longyu Tian assured the youth. In fact, she didn’t mind if Shin stayed in her arms for the remainder of the Summit. “I had met Longyu Yuan, your great-grandfather, once when I was just a mere child. He was rebellious and obstinate and would do anything to get his way. Ultimately, his character had led to his expulsion and renouncement of his family name, but his children bore no sin. If only the Elders of the Longyu Clan back then weren’t that headstrong… Perhaps this whole tragedy, your tragedy, could have been avoided.”
Longyu Tian felt sorry for Shin as well as the deceased individuals of the Awter Clan. While they bore the bloodline of the Longyu Clan, they didn’t possess any formal ties to the Lantis Republic. Thus, it was almost impossible for the Longyu Clan to justify their involvement in the Himmel Empire. If the older generation weren’t that stubborn, the Awter Clan would have been absorbed back into the Longyu Clan ages ago, preventing the dreadful massacre that had led to Shin becoming an orphan.
“Could you… Turn back time?” Shin meekly asked. As impossible as it may sound, the young boy had a flicker of hope that the Spirit Saint could perform a miracle.
“The past is the past…” Longyu Tian shook her head. She may be the Spirit Saint of time, but even she had no abilities that could rewind the clock.
“Time is like the Celestial River. An ever flowing entity that can never be resisted. You could place a rock in it, or even build a dam to slow it down, but the only thing that you can never do is reverse its flow.” The Spirit Saint sighed. Time reversal was something that she had once considered when she triggered her Spirit Evolution. If she could master the art, she would be able to save all of her beloved family and friends that had perished over the years.
However, as she grew older and her comprehension over the element began to mature, Longyu Tian started to understand how naive she was. She could affect the present and even influence the future through her sights, but the past could never be changed.
“I see…” The wish that Shin had shattered. Here he was, hoping that Longyu Tian could resurrect Ariel and those who passed from the dead. Alas, there was a reason why miracles were called impossible feats.
“I’m sorry, Shin.” Longyu Tian could tell how much he loved this Ariel girl from the Frie Clan, just by how broken down, the boy looked just moments prior. She too had felt the pain of losing her loved one to the annals of time, and the Spirit Saint knew that there was only one remedy for the pain that Shin was feeling. For Shin to get over Ariel’s death, there was only one thing that he could do, and funnily enough, it was to wait for the time to pass.
‘No… I still have one other hope! If I reach the Immortal Realm, there’s a chance to find Yggdrasil!!!’ Reaffirming his desire to become the next Spirit Immortal, Shin’s gloomy expression changed to one of immense ambition.
“Saint Longyu Tian… I have actually come here with a motive in mind.”
“Please, don’t be so informal.” The woman gently smiled and stroked the young boy’s hair. Shin was a descendant of the Longyu Clan as well as a bearer of the Mark of the Celestial Dragon. There was no need for Shin to treat her so distantly. “Call me Aunt Tian.”
“No, how could I?!”
Calling a Spirit Saint his aunt? Only those with a death wish would do such a thing.
“Saint Longyu Tian. I have a bold request, and I know that it’s presumptuous of me to ask…” Shin immediately went onto his knees and kowtowed to the black-haired woman. Yes, it was unsightly, but for him to accomplish his dreams, Shin had to take this drastic step. Even if he had to climb the highest mountain and dive to the deepest depths of the ocean, Shin must convince the Spirit Saint to agree to his request.
“Please, let me get baptised by the Celestial River!”
Shin stood stupefied. Did Longyu Tian just agree to his request? Just like that?
“Shin… You share my blood, and you have the Mark of the Celestial Dragon. Of course, you deserve to get baptised!” Longyu Tian smiled. Nonetheless, there was one caveat to her swift approval.
“Come… Let us return… Let us return to your rightful home.” Longyu Tian was ready to pounce and fly off with Shin, ignoring the Summit and the procession from the Lantis Republic altogether. “Let us return to Longyu Reef.”