‘Spirit Saint?!’ Shin took one hard look at the poorly dressed old man with great interest. In his entire life, Shin had only met with a Spirit Saint once, and that was Lady Seph’s Master, Saint Althea.
Throughout his years in the Capital, Shin had his fair share of social events where he met multiple influential individuals. Some were Spirit Emperors that specialised in research, while others were hardliner government officials that got to power due to their overwhelming cultivation levels. On some rare instances, he would have caught glimpses with some Spirit Venerates, such as the incident where he butted heads with Field Marshal Ridan Bitterdawn. However, other than that, the majority of cultivators that he often met were around the Spirit Spectre realm.
Thus, when Kanari had introduced the elderly man as a Spirit Saint, Shin’s mind couldn’t connect the dots. From what he had heard, the Spirit Saints of the Himmel Empire were an aloof bunch, with many of them having their own palaces and could easily force the government to listen to their orders. There was even one infamous incident where a Spirit Saint asked for a forest to be built in the Capital, as his own personal cultivation ground, and the Imperial Courts actually obliged.
In Shin’s mind, Spirit Saints were often whimsical and had a few screws loose up in their brains. However, there was no denying their overwhelming capabilities. If a Spirit Saint wanted Shin dead, they could just spend a little bit of mana, and he would be crushed into a meat paste within a fraction of a second.
“Shin Iofiel greets the esteemed Saint!!!” Not taking any chances, Shin bowed down to the poorly dressed elder. Likewise, the other Imperius Academy students that were standing next to him followed suit.
“Please, I’m just an old escort. There’s no need to be so uptight.” Saint Firebird put on his most friendly smile and allowed the young children to dispense with the formalities. While he wasn’t emitting any form of pressure and wasn’t threatening in the slightest, Shin and his friends couldn’t help but feel nervous when they were in his presence.
“Thank you for your generosity.”
At that moment, many in the auditorium finally noticed the arrival of the most important figure in the entire expedition. With revering gazes, the members of High Society felt a magnetic pull towards the unsuspecting old man but were stopped by the same nervousness that Shin and his friends felt.
Compared to a regular person, a Spirit Saint was on a different spectrum of existence. One would insult the Sovereign Emperor of the Himmel Empire before they would dare to speak a single negative word about a Spirit Saint.
Many in the room had been in High Society for decades but had never even caught a glimpse of a Spirit Saint, due to how rarely they came out in public. A connection with a Spirit Saint was essentially a golden ticket to High Society heaven. In fact, if a Spirit Saint just shook someone’s hand, that very same person would be on the front pages of every major newspaper publication the next day. Therefore, with power-hungry eyes, the men and women in the room begun to gravitate towards the grey-robed old man. Unfortunately…
“Please step away, this area is forbidden.” Dozens of black-dressed guards appeared from the shadows and barred the path of towards Saint Firebird. Seeing the terrifying faces of the guards, the majority backed away. If the Spirit Saint didn’t want to be disturbed, then there was no way that the regular man would dare trespass into his territory.
Nonetheless, some thick-skinned individuals wouldn’t take it lying down. “What do you mean forbidden?! This is the Imperial Court’s Auditorium! How could some areas be blocked?!”
“That’s right! This is an open area! We should be able to move as we please!”
Trying to haggle with the guards of Spion that had appeared, some aristocrats desperately tried to break through the barrier just to get noticed by the esteemed Spirit Saint. To them, this was an opportunity that was too good to just pass up. If the Spirit Saint just remembered their name, it would be enough to boost their entire careers multiple-fold.
“It sure is getting rowdy here… Let’s change locations.” Annoyed by the incessant disturbance, Saint Firebird gestured for Kanari and the rest to follow him while he walked towards the nearby exit.
“Tskkk!!! Isn’t he showing blatant favouritism here?!” After Saint Firebird left with Kanari, the entire auditorium finally quietened down. Unable to hold it anymore, a woman from the Young Drake Duke’s entourage finally let out an angered remark, though she kept her volume to its minimum.
“There’s nothing we can do… Saint Firebird has always been a friend of the Highgarden Duchy, and he had taken a liking towards Kanari.” The blonde-haired young man shook his head.
“Eikyo! Don’t you feel a little wronged?! You had been toiling out for years, and the Spirit Saints of the Empire didn’t even bother to grant you a single audience! Yet, that girl was just born into the right family with the right Spirit, and she’s able to get a Spirit Saint’s endorsement! That’s too unfair!”
“…” While the rest of the group kept silent, they too felt that their young master should have been the one to get a Spirit Saint’s approval. Everyone who joined his faction knew how hard he worked to get to the top. How many hours he had spent in producing resources so that he could upkeep his promises to the numerous followers that he had. If anyone had to receive a Spirit Saint’s endorsement, it should have been him!
“It doesn’t matter. Saint Firebird isn’t the only Spirit Saint in the Empire after all…” While he muttered out those words, deep down, the Young Drake Duke’s heart was bleeding.
If the government were the wheels that the country spinning, it was the Spirit Saints that provided the wheel in the first place. Without the Spirit Saints standing over the country, the two other superpowers would have barged into the Empire and looted everything that the country had. Therefore, it was imperative that the Himmel Empire kept their Spirit Saints happy, and to a certain extent, the four Saints were even above the law.
As someone who was seeking to become a major powerhouse in the future, the Young Drake Duke needed to coax a Spirit Saint to endorse him, or at the very least, meet with him. Unfortunately, all his efforts thus far had proven to be fruitless. All of the Spirit Saints in the Empire had seemingly washed their hands off the matters of the mortal world and were wholly focused on advancing their own cultivations. Hence, for Eikyo, who had no relations to any of the Spirit Saints, it was a tall hurdle for him to cross.
The first and most important Spirit Saint, the Imperial Ancestor, would never place his endorsements on anyone other than the Imperial Family, and Saint Firebird clearly favoured Kanari over anyone else. Which meant that Eikyo had to focus on the other two Spirit Saints. Unluckily for him, both Spirit Saints had been in seclusion for more than a decade and wouldn’t even leave their abodes if the Imperial Courts asked for them.
Without the endorsement of a Spirit Saint, the Young Duke Drake could only grit his teeth and invest in the most talented individuals of his generation, hoping that just one of them would break through into the coveted realm, boosting his overall influence in the future.
‘If only I was born with a legendary Spirit like the Kumiho…’ The primary reason why Saint Firebird favoured Kanari over everyone else in the Empire was her outstanding Spirit. Just like the black-haired beauty, Saint Firebird had awakened a legendary Spirit known as the Phoenix. Both the Kumiho and the Phoenix used fires in their fights, and their status as a legendary beast was undisputed throughout the modern world.
When Saint Firebird first heard that Kanari had awakened the Kumiho, he had personally reached to the Highgarden Duchy, just so that he could impart a few pointers. Being one of few cultivators that had actually awakened a legendary beast, Saint Firebird felt that he had an obligation to guide Kanari so that she could reach her fullest potential.
However, to his complete surprise, Kanari had surpassed all his expectations and had become one of the most promising cultivators in recent history. Advancing through the ranks at an alarming rate, Kanari broke records and performed deeds that even made his old heart race.
Although Saint Firebird didn’t have the ability to predict the future, he could tell that Kanari would undoubtedly become a Spirit Saint if nurtured correctly. Furthermore, by his estimates, Kanari even stood a chance of crossing the final barrier and attaining immortality for herself.
At this point, Saint Firebird’s stone-hardened heart that had been eroded through the years of constant disappointment had finally been revitalised. So what if he didn’t become a Spirit Immortal? Being the teacher of the next Spirit Immortal didn’t sound too bad. When he finally realised this fact, Saint Firebird had accepted Kanari as his disciple and had announced to the world that he was endorsing the young girl as her mentor.
‘Well, there’s no helping it… Either way, Kanari’s still way far behind when it comes to overall influence.’ Eikyo pat himself on the back as he looked back on all of his accomplishments and how much Kanari needed to even hope of equalling his influence.
Hiding his bitter heart, the Young Drake Duke put on the brightest smile that he could possibly make and went around greeting the hundreds of members gathered here.
After causing a commotion in the main auditorium of the Imperial Courts, Saint Firebird had led Kanari, Shin, Elrin, Shizen, Ella and Emma into a private indoor garden that was hidden from the public view. Taking a seat on the principal chair of the pavilion, the grey-robed man poured himself a cup of tea as he enjoyed the lush greenery.
“Kanari, take a seat. Your friends as well.”
Hurriedly abiding by the Spirit Saint’s orders, Shin and his friends all rushed to the nearby bench, while Kanari took the main chair that was directly opposite of Saint Firebird.
“Elder Firebird? Is something the matter?”
“Hmmm? Can’t I catch up with my precious disciple?”
“No! Of course, you can! In fact, you should meet me more often!” Kanari immediately turned on her honey tongue. “It’s just that it’s rare for you to call me out in the open.” Like most Spirit Saints, Elder Firebird had to keep his hands away from the affairs of the mortal world, and that included getting involved with politics. Hence, although he had endorsed Kanari, Elder Firebird had always kept his distance from her whenever they were under scrutiny.
“That’s true, but this time it’s different.” Saint Firebird emptied his cup of tea with one gulp. “You’re going to the Summit with Eikyo, who is in the Spirit Spectre realm and has a heap of Spirit Spectres and Spirit Adepts amongst his ranks. On the other hand, you’re only bringing some Spirit Core and Spirit Apostles there. Compared to them, your side does look rather weak, so I decided to give you a boost before you depart.”
“Elder… Thank you.” Kanari felt her heart warm up at how the elderly man looked out for her. “However, there’s no need to worry. Our side is in no way inferior to theirs! Give us a few years, and we’ll definitely surpass all of their cultivation levels!”
“Hoho?” Saint Firebird stroked his hairless chin in amusement. Turning to the black-haired boy who had his butt clenched just two metres away, the Spirit Saint gestured for Shin to stand up.
“Boy. You’re Shin Iofiel right?”
“Sixteen years of age. Already at Rank 24. The youngest healer in history as well as the only person to participate in the Fall of Aldrich’s Keep, the Disaster of Frie Mountain and the Massacre of the Land of Dreams. Quite the resume you have.”
“…” Shin felt his blood run cold as the world blanked out. He didn’t expect that a Spirit Saint would be so knowledgeable about his own exploits. “Thank you for your praise.”
“I appreciate talent when I see it.” Saint Firebird suddenly looked at Kanari. “Also, I’ve heard that you haven’t formally joined Kanari’s faction… What’s stopping you? Are you just trying to use her for your own convenience?”
Hearing the elder’s words, Shin vision blurred as he frantically tried to find an excuse. Based on how they interacted, Shin could tell that Kanari held a unique position in the Spirit Saint’s heart. If he gave an unsatisfactory answer, perhaps his head would roll right then and there.
“I… Can’t commit to her cause.” After deliberating on it for a while, Shin decided to just go with his most truthful answer. “I appreciate everything that Kanari has done for me. I really do, and I swear that I’ll repay her through any means that I can. However, I have a more pressing dream to pursue, and joining her faction formally would just slow that down.”
“Shin…” Kanari looked at her friend with warm eyes. Nonetheless, the loneliness that she felt couldn’t be hidden, and Shin felt her apprehension through her gaze.
“Sorry, Kanari. I promise to help you whenever you’re in need. However, the Black Masks are my number one priority.” Shin apologised to Kanari before turning back to the grey-robed elder. “Saint, to answer your question, no I’m not using Kanari for my own convenience. If she needs help, I will be the first one to rush to her side. This I can swear.”
“…” Saint Firebird evaluated the young boy once more. After a brief period of awkward silence, the elder burst out in laughter.
“HAHAHA!!! Perfect! Looks like Kanari’s eyes hasn’t decayed just yet!” The Spirit Saint slapped Shin in the back as if he were giving his stamp of approval. “Please look out for Kanari from now on!”
After affirming Shin’s true intentions, Saint Firebird made a little bit of small talk before the juniors had to leave for the auditorium, where the convoy was waiting. While he was alone in the empty garden, a blonde beauty emerged from the shadows and bowed down to the elderly man.
“Thank you, Firebird… It means a lot to me.”
“Don’t mention it, Seraphim.” The grey-robed man walked over to Lady Seph with a smile on his face. “I scratch your back, you scratch mine right? You helped me all those years ago, so it’s only natural that I return the favour.”
“Nevertheless, I still have to thank you.” Lady Seph had thrown away her haughty attitude and respectfully bowed down to the grey-robed elder.
“Haha! But honestly, that disciple of yours is quite the earnest character. It has been years since someone dared to talk back to me.”
“Well, he is MY disciple.” Lady Seph shrugged her shoulders. For her, Shin was a source of great pride. Any praise that he received brought her an endless amount of joy.
“Haha, really… Like master like student…”