The Himmel Empire. The Capital. Imperial Court Auditorium.
Three weeks had passed since the Summit was first announced to the entire world. For the most part, those unaffected by the Summit continued on with their daily lives without much hindrance, the news was a shocker, but for the regular citizens of the Empire, it was just a passing thought that would often be brought up by the nosy neighbour who claimed to be an authority in the world of politics.
On the other hand, for those involved in the Summit, it was a different story. Major newspaper outlets had sent convoys of their best journalists to set up camp outside of the Land of Dreams, while shrewd merchants found opportunities to set up shop in the now desolate area. Of course, it wasn’t just the newspaper companies and the merchants who had their hands red-hot with activity.
The Imperial Family and the Imperial Courts were finalising the documents that they were going to present at the Summit, with Prince Koshaku sharpening his negotiation techniques using Field Marshal Ridan Bitterdawn as a practice partner. It wasn’t as if the Prince was that bad at negotiations either. However, when the Imperial Family had heard that the Lantis Republic was sending out the ‘Iron Tongue,’ Zhangyu Yaoguai, even the confident prince couldn’t help but feel worried about his presentation skills.
While the Prince was busy rehearsing his speech, the Imperial Eunuch, Gonggong was put in charge of managing the logistics of the trip. When the Imperial Courts heard that the Kori Federation was sending at least a hundred and fifty men to the Summit, they had pushed Gonggong to scout out all of the most talented individuals from the younger generation. Thanks to that order, even cultivators who were under the age of twenty, such as Shizen, Suji, Danroy and Natasha were all invited to attend the Summit.
Hence, when the day of reckoning arrived, Shin managed to spot multiple familiar faces as he observed the packed auditorium. In fact, nearly his entire academy’s clique had been gathered together to attend the Summit, with Isadore being the sole exception. It wasn’t that Isadore lacked in talent compared to the others. If he were compared to the other members when it came to pure martial art skills, Isadore would undoubtedly be placed at the top. However, those who knew of his true identity understood that there was no way his existence could be revealed to the world before he had matured.
“Shin! Emma! Ella! You’re finally here!” As Shin and the twins were strolling through the auditorium, Elrin’s bubbly voice came from a packed group of aristocrats as the white-haired girl somehow managed to break through. “What took you so long?”
“Wasn’t the meeting time at noon? There’s still two hours left!” Ella protested. Unlike the rest of the group, the three orphans were living in a remote part of the mountains. It took them some time to pack and travel towards the central part of the Capital, where the Imperial Courts were located. Nonetheless, Shin and the twins still rushed over as early as they possibly could, and had managed to reach the meeting point two hours before the stipulated time. Yet, Elrin was still questioning their tardiness.
“Everyone knows that we should meet at least four hours in advance when it comes to events such as this! Some people have been waiting here since three in the morning you know!” Elrin continued to tease Ella.
“T-Three?! How dedicated…” It wasn’t just Ella who was surprised. Shin and Emma similarly had their jaws dropped. No matter how excited a person was, it didn’t make sense to meet a full nine hours early.
“Hehe, that’s the ABCs of socialising in High Society for you. The event isn’t an integral part. It’s time you spend talking with everyone in the room that sets you apart.” Elrin let her years of being an experienced merchant show. “If you want your name to be known by everyone in the world, you must first build connections with the right people. Fortunately, everyone that’s attending the Summit will be the cream of the crop! Just talking to a handful of them would easily boost your name multiple-fold! Come, you should join me.”
Before the three orphans could be swayed into the dark side, a descending fist bumped Elrin on the head, forcing the girl to crouch down in agony. “Don’t corrupt them. Weren’t you there when Lady Seph told us that they had to keep a low profile?”
Kanari came to the rescue of Shin and the twins with a stern frown on her face. She had been given a mission by Lady Seph, and that was to prevent Shin from being sugar-talked into another association as well as helping the trio gain some connections with those from the Lantis Republic. Thus, there was no way that she would stand by and watch as Elrin potentially jeopardize her mission.
“Kanari… Why always my head? Can’t you target something else for once?”
“Ara? I thought that me hitting your head could help you fix that loony mindset of yours.” Kanari cleaned her knuckles as she threatened to land another blow. While she always retained a prim and proper demeanour to anyone she met, against her bosom childhood friend, Kanari could let loose a little bit of her pent-up stress.
“Hah… Fine, fine!” Elrin smiled and raised her hands in defeat. “You win, alright!”
“Oh, you don’t have to be that exaggerated.” Kanari beamed and turned to the three High Society virgins. While she didn’t agree with Shin or the twins mingling around with the wrong kind of company, there was still some truth to Elrin’s words. To avoid embarrassing themselves when it came to the ABCs of High Society, Kanari should teach the trio about the basics. However, before she could do that…
“Shizen! Come here!” Kanari gestured for the lethargic petite boy, who was desperately trying to keep his eyes wide open. Over the past month and a half where Shin, Elrin and Isadore were gone, Kanari had spent the majority of her time interacting with the twins and Shizen.
The twins were relatively simple to manage. As long as Kanari said the right words and gave the right gifts, it wasn’t that hard to get on their good side. However, Shizen was a whole different ball game. He had little desires and almost always felt the need to laze around under the sun. Other than the created water that Shin had produced for him, the young boy seemed to be indifferent to any kinds of luxury that Kanari could have provided for him.
It took Kanari a great deal of effort to finally pull Shizen over to her side. Of course, if Shin wanted Shizen to join his organisation, Kanari wouldn’t force the matter and would find a compromise where the Freak of the Dundlewoods could use his services exclusively for both the Highgarden Duchy and Shin’s organisation. However, for now, Shizen could be considered as someone from Kanari’s faction.
“So tired…” Shizen moaned in fatigue and nearly collapsed on the floor.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get to sleep in the caravan later on. For now, I think that I should point out all of the famous individuals in the room. So that you won’t misidentify them later on.”
“Thanks, Kanari!” Hearing his friend’s words, Shin felt as if holy water had been poured onto his skin. He was just worried about what to do with the overwhelming number of faces here. If someone came to him and he didn’t recognise them, wouldn’t that lead to an awkward situation?
“Don’t mention it. Alright, look over there.” Kanari pointed to a group of gaudy aristocrats that were busy gulping down glasses of wine while merrily chatting away. “That’s Earl Garcia and his friends. They have been climbing up the ladder for quite some time now, and many go to them for financial advice.”
Bit by bit, Kanari introduced Shin to everyone in the auditorium from the safety of a hidden corner. Nobles, military men, merchants… Anyone who had a decent name for themselves in the Empire, Kanari would inform Shin about their looks and accomplishments. Even though Shin wasn’t here to network with those from the Himmel Empire, it was still an excellent asset to know everyone’s name.
Finally, as Kanari was finally coming to the end of her introductions, a blonde-haired young man walked into the auditorium, instantly silencing the entire chambers. Donned in a majestic red parka, the young man was escorted by a mixture of guards and young talents. Each guard had put on heavy black armour, and with every step that they took, a dense aura of immense power seeped out from their bones. It didn’t take a genius to guess that those guards were among the best of the best and were at the very least in the Spirit King realm.
Not to be outdone by the security detail, the young talents that followed the man were all emitting out a dangerous aura. The six men and women following the young blonde man glanced around the room with bored expressions, as if there was nothing worth investing their time in. While some nobles got annoyed by their nonchalance, they didn’t dare to voice out their opinions. Why? Because those young men and women were clearly superior.
“You don’t have to introduce that guy… I know him.” Shin didn’t need Kanari’s introductions to recognise the ostentatious man. As long as you’re a resident in the Capital, you would have seen that man’s face before. However, not many had seen him in person, that’s all. “The Young Drake Duke. That’s your rival right?”
“Yeah…” Kanari bitterly replied. Rival wasn’t the right term for the relationship that they had. To call them rivals, would imply that the two were on equal standing grounds, but that was not the case. Yes, they were both heirs to valuable Duchies, and they were both talented cultivators. Nonetheless, the Young Drake Duke had amassed such a massive following that it wasn’t even funny anymore. If all went his way, by the time the two super geniuses inherited their Duchies, the Young Drake Duke would have controlled over half of the talents that were born in their generation.
“The Young Drake Duke, Eikyo. He’s the one that you have to be the most careful of. If you’re trying to meet up with those from the Longyu Clan, he’s the one that would get in your way the most.”
“Yeah, Master warned me.” Shin nodded. Recollecting the time where he first announced himself to the Empire through his efforts during the Year-End tournaments, the Young Drake Duke, Eikyo, had actually sent him numerous invitations before. However, just as he treated the invitation just like the other letters that he received. After politely declining the offer, Shin proceeded to dump the letters in the trash can. “He’s the most dangerous one…”
“What an apt description.” Kanari nodded and turned back her glare on the blonde super genius. “Even though he has that much power and influence, he’s always searching for more. Eikyo had even stolen one of my most trusted advisors from me once.” Revealing her bitter history with the Young Drake Duke, Kanari warned Shin of the dangers with interacting with such a selfish man.
“Haha, looks like your feud with Eikyo is still ongoing huh?” A soft whisper entered into the ears of the young group, forcing them to jump in fright.
Abruptly turning around, Shin and the group found a wrinkled old man, who was just barely 1.7 metres tall, smiling straight at them. Wearing a grey-coloured haori, the elderly man looked like a regular beggar that had wandered into the wrong side of town. Shin’s knee-jerk reaction was to punch the old man in the face for appearing so suddenly, but he controlled himself as he remembered where he currently was. Furthermore, there was the most pressing question of all…
‘How the hell did he appear behind us without us knowing?!’
Shin and Kanari were both Spirit Core cultivators, and their senses were far above the average person. For someone to travel under their radar and reappear that close behind them, he must have been an expert.
“Elder Firebird?!” Just as Shin initially was, Kanari had readied her combat mentality to take down the man who had appeared out of nowhere. However, after one second of examination, Kanari’s uneasiness soon turned into pure jubilation. “You didn’t tell me that you’re the one that’s joining the expedition!”
“Haha, I was also chosen at the last minute.” The elderly man replied. “If I had known earlier, I definitely would have informed your mother.”
The elderly man conversed with Kanari informally, as if they were grandfather and granddaughter, stunning Shin, Shizen and the twins. Had there ever been a time where Kanari had been so relaxed among someone from the older generation? They highly doubted.
However, unlike the four clueless commoners, Elrin clearly had an adverse reaction. Recognising the elderly man, the white-haired girl finally regained her wits and greeted the strange old man.
“S-S-Saint F-Firebird! It’s an honour to finally meet you! M-My name is Elrin Zedcris!” Even the seasoned merchant in Elrin couldn’t stop her from stuttering when meeting such a mighty individual.
“Saint?! That means!!!” Hearing Elrin’s explosion, Shin turned wide-eyed towards the unsuspecting old man, who seemed incapable of even harming a housefly.
“That’s right! Let me introduce you two!” Kanari stood before the two with a beaming smile and said:
“Shin… This is Elder Firebird. One of the few mighty Spirit Saints of the Empire.”