The Uncharted Wilderness. ???????????
Pitter Patter… Pitter Patter…
Blackness. That was the prevalent colour that draped the night stormy sky. There was no moon to illuminate the way, and there were no stars for dreamers to let their fantasies go wild. The only source of light that filled the heavens above were the constant thunderbolts that crackled down upon the earth as if unleashing the wrath of a Divine Immortal. Chilling cold winds swept through the densely packed forest, rustling the leaves of the tall, lanky trees while heavy raindrops splashed onto the canopies and if not for the deep, dense soil that absorbed all of the moisture from the rain, the area would have been flooded by now.
Amidst the torrential downpour that silenced anything else that dared to breathe a sound, a colossal stone castle stood firm, hiding under cover of darkness and obscured by a fog of grey mist. Shielded by the wet weather, the bricked walls of the castle boasted countless explosive cannons and hundreds of bright lights that brightened its surroundings. Unaffected the cold winds, the interior of the Acropolis was as warm as can be.
A tale as old as time itself, each castle hid its own secrets. If an average dweller were to chance upon this majestic structure, they would undoubtedly have questions for its inhabitants. Unfortunately, those numbers were few and far between, and if someone happened to stumble across the castle, it was almost inevitable that they would never live to see another day.
Kusu Kusu Kusu Kusu
The sonorous echo of a pen scribing upon a piece of yellow parchment reverberated through the empty hallways of this fort of stone. While the lights were all entirely on, it didn’t mean that there were thousands of men and women staying within this luxury in a dump. In fact, it was on the contrary. There were only a few dozen members currently inhabiting the glorious castle and over half of them were out running errands. Naturally, many servants were tending to the day-to-day operations of the enormous castle, but for the most part, the masters weren’t home half of the time. However, that didn’t mean that the masters didn’t need to come home for rest…
Tap Tap Tap
Light footsteps approached the furious pen-writing echoes. A bright young woman, who was no more than thirty years of age, carried a tray of light refreshments consisting of a combination of tea, cakes and bread. Seeing as the door was slightly ajar, the young woman gently creaked open the door with the heel of her foot, revealing an aged stone chamber with shelves upon shelves of thick tomes.
Placing down the tray of refreshments on a nearby lampstand, the lady turned her attention to the centre of the spacious chamber. A suave young man, who had vibrant viridian-coloured hair, was seemingly unaware that a full-grown woman had barged into his holy sanctum without warning. Continuously scribbling down the notes that he had to complete, the young man’s head never looked up for one second.
‘Hehe… His serious face sure is mesmerising…’ The young woman thought to herself. She had seen that face almost every day when she woke up from bed, but nothing could beat the raw emotion that bubbled up from her chest when she was observing her man do what he did best. ‘As much as I would like to savour this moment, he should eat something.’
“Hmmm? Oh, Shia? What’s up?” Junius lifted his head up for one moment to identify the newcomer and continued to write immediately after.
“Hey! Don’t go back to writing! I came here to deliver your late night snack!”
“Alright, leave it there. I’ll eat later.”
Shia placed both her hands on her waist and leaned in immediately towards Junius’ face. Their foreheads touching, the focused young man had been pried away from his work and was forced to deal with the lass standing before his eyes.
“You always say that, but in the end, you’ll not touch it at all! Do you know how many times I had to throw away perfectly good food that had turned cold and gathered a colony of ants?” Shia chided Junius on his eating habits. “Also, you have been working for almost six hours straight since dinner! Can’t you spare a few moments? Is your work really that urgent?”
“No buts!” Hushing Junius before he could even get a word in, Shia grabbed the man by the hand and led him towards the sofa that had doubled as a single bed for the hard-working Awter member. “Have some tea and relax. Work can wait.”
Unable to win against his woman, Junius just sighed and allowed Shia to handle the rest. The light-blue haired lady poured Junius a cup of tea and placed the chiffon cake that had been liberally dusted with powdered sugar, right in front of the handsome young man. At the same time, she circled around the sofa and placed her slender hands onto the toughened shoulders of Junius.
Finding the points that she was all too familiar with, Shia pressed down as if her life depended on it. Junius’ shoulders were as hard as a stone, and it was challenging to release the tension that had been built up from constant physical training, cultivation, desk work and missions. Nonetheless, Shia still adamantly pursued the task of being Junius’ personal masseuse.
“I’ve told you, Shia. There’s no need to massage me every day.”
“That’s the least that I should do.” Shia rejected Junius’ claim and continued to press down with the tip of her thumbs. “You had given us, the survivors of the Awter Clan so much. Senior Vellan’s promotion, dozens of Black Masks joining our banner, and even this castle. All of this was because of you.”
“I didn’t do much. Senior Vellan was the one that…”
“Junius, please.” The woman lifted her right hand and covered her lover’s mouth. “We have lived under the Allfather’s umbrella much longer than you did. We know how the Black Masks act when it comes to rewards and punishments. If not for your contributions in the Land of Dreams, we would still be living in that cave, scrapping maggots off our beds and chasing rats away.”
A few months ago, the Allfather had decreed that Junius was to plan out one of the twelve bases in the Kori Federation, instantly catapulting him into the upper echelons of the Black Mask Syndicate, even though he was just a Spirit Adept. Many sneered and jeered the young man, but Junius persisted through the criticism and with the help of Vellan, the base that everyone thought would be a failure, was on track to become the first completion of the Kori Federation.
Pleased with the result, the Allfather bestowed upon the remnants of the Awter Clan a personal mansion within the Uncharted Wilderness. A prestige that was only granted to the Black Masks’ most trusted members. While Junius couldn’t take all the credit for the win, there was no doubt in everybody’s minds that the young prodigy was the major reason for the Allfather’s grace.
“I did it all… For the family.”
“I know you did.” Shia slipped her hands down from Junius’ shoulders as she leaned in comfortably. Her bosom touching the man’s head, Shia tucked her falling her behind her ear and latched on to the warmth of Junius. “For that, we’re grateful. Although Captain and many others aren’t here to enjoy this luxury, I’m sure that they would be proud of your accomplishments.”
“No… I haven’t done anything yet.” Junius grasped the soft, gentle hands of Shia. “I don’t even have the faintest idea of how I can bring Shin and the others to our side. He’s still surrounded by Spirit Emperors and Spirit Venerates in the heart of the Himmel Empire’ Capital. Though I have established some communications with the underground there, they aren’t enough for me to establish a connection with Shin!”
Junius spat out in anger. He had spent a fortune to create a network within the Capital, but as it turns out, the central hub of any superpower wasn’t that easy to infiltrate. Other than obtaining some reports from the newspapers, Junius barely had any information about how to get to Shin or any of the other orphans.
“One step at a time.” Shia consoled her man by rubbing on his chest. “I believe that with your persistence, the Young Master would be sure to come around.”
Shia looked sideways and locked eyes with the handsome young man. Though she was nine years older than him, Shia had always retained her youthful looks, and now, it seemed that Junius was the older of the pair. His sharp, chiselled chin and valiant, eagle-shaped eyes made him stand above the pack as compared to other men his age. However, at this very moment, the impassioned tiger had been tamed, and he was just a cute little boy before and hungry lioness.
“Sometimes, I forget that you’re older than me.”
“Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?!”
“A compliment! A compliment!” Laughing at the puffed squirrel cheeks of his partner, Junius gulped down an entire cup of tea as the fatigue that had bottled up finally hit him like a truck. Unfortunately, just before he could lay down to sleep, a third foreign voice disrupted the peace in the stone chambers.
“Urgh… The atmosphere is so sweet that it’s sickening…”
“S-Senior Ao?!” Recognising the voice, Junius immediately hopped onto his feet and turned his body towards the opened window pane. There wasn’t a need to visually see the intruder. Saluting like a soldier, Junius waited for the man to accept his address.
“Dispense the formalities. We aren’t that kind of organisation.” The blue-haired man scoffed at Junius’ sincere bow. Closing the window that he had used to infiltrate the castle, the tall, handsome man moved deeper into the office and claimed his place on the opposite side of Junius’ sofa.
“W-What brings you here, Senior Ao?” Junius wasn’t one to trip on his own words. However, when one of the Black Masks most influential executives was addressing him, the young man couldn’t help but get tongue-tied. Furthermore, it didn’t help that Ao was a peak Tier 9 Spirit Beast that could effortlessly destroy his entire castle within a fraction of a second.
“Don’t be so uptight.” Ao waved his hands and sat back. In his human form, the Spirit Beast didn’t look all that different from a normal man. He could fit on sofas, he could use his five senses like a human could and he could even mimic the way a human speaks. Of course, if Ao really wanted to, he could easily unleash the tremendous mana that was stored within his angular and lean body, demolishing anything within a hundred metre radius. Nonetheless, right now, the World Serpent was nothing more than a messenger.
“The Allfather has some news to dispatch to you. I’m just here to deliver the message.”
“The Allfather asked you to personally give me a message?!” Junius immediately knelt down. To members of the Black Masks, the Allfather’s word was akin to that of an Imperial Decree. No, it far surpassed the words of any Emperor. If the Allfather asked for the Black Masks to throw away their lives for his sake, they would willingly jump into a pit of fire, no questions asked.
“No, he asked me to deliver the news to everyone working on the Kori Federation bases. You’re the only one that I personally took the time to visit. The rest are being informed via a proxy.”
“I-I’m honoured…” Junius bowed once again.
“Don’t mention it. Furthermore, some news is better told in person rather than with a mere soulless puppet.”
Unsure of what the World Serpent meant, Junius shot Ao a curious look. Nonetheless, since it wasn’t in his place to raise questions so brazenly, the young man could only wait patiently for the explanation.
“Let’s just cut to the chase. The Allfather wants you to limit the number of hands working at the bases to fifty. Also, you are to lay low for the time being. Any operations that may result in the exposure of the base must be delayed.”
“What’s going on?”
“The three superpowers have moved faster than we’ve thought. They had already signed an Alliance and have already found three of the twelve bases in the Kori Federation. They’re preparing various operations to wipe those bases clean as we speak.” Ao gritted his teeth. As a Spirit Beast, he didn’t have any good dealings with human cultivators from the three superpowers. “We can’t risk putting any of our other bases at risk. As much as I want to wreck the humans with a never-ending tempest, we’re still rather weak as compared to the forces of the Alliance. Any head-on confrontation now would only result in us wasting decades of hard work.”
“They had already moved that quickly?!” Junius immediately realised the gravity of the situation. Based on their forecasts, the Alliance had a fifty percent chance of forming and the earliest estimates of them signing the treaty would take at least a year! Yet, the feat was accomplished in less than two months!
“That’s right. So we have to be exceedingly cautious, else our efforts would go down the drain.” Ao explained. “Don’t worry, your base is out of their radar, so it’s safe. At least for now.”
“I understand!” Junius clicked his heels together and gave the World Serpent a salute. “I’ll execute the Allfather’s orders to the best of my ability!”
“Good!” Ao clapped. Just like everyone else in the syndicate, Ao was always watching the meteoric rise of Junius. Thus far, the wonder boy had never failed a mission, and his cultivation standards were top notch and were comparable to that of the human Luminaries. If groomed correctly, perhaps one day, Junius would get to stand on the podium alongside the Nine Coloured Noble Beasts.
“One more thing that you should know…”
“What is it?” Junius tilted his head in confusion.
“The boy that you and your family had been chasing. Shin, was it?”
“Yes?” Junius and Shia’s heart palpitated wildly. The entire focus for the remnants of the Awter Clan was the reclaim Shin and avenge their fallen brethren. Was Ao going to tell them some good news? Was the Allfather ready to green-light another operation to reclaim Shin and the rest of the orphans?
“The Allfather has laid down the order…” Ao took a deep breath in before thoughtfully staring at the two younglings.
“Give up on him.”