The seven heroes of Imperius Academy had been passing their days in Huuring City with relative peace. After the whole fiasco with Winfred, there had been zero incidents where a stray vagrant would wander into their inn seeking to end their lives a little early. Possibly the word got out, or there were other forces in play, Shin’s group had yet to see another soul other than the innkeeper, that homely barmaid, a number of the inn’s residents and the members of the Moon Mercenaries.
As promised, Natalie and Latina kept their involvement with the seven heroes a secret and only the leader of the Moon Mercenaries, Gary knew that the pair had accepted a commission to assist the group. Everyday, Natalie would bring Latina to the inn with a basket full of treats. One as a thank you for saving their lives back in the forest, and secondly, it was an excellent way for the pair to break into the social group through small talk.
Furthermore, after Shin had found out about Natalie’s swordsmanship skills, the young man would pester the middle-aged woman for a light sparring round, just to improve his skills a little bit. In Natalie’s mind, it was a win-win scenario. Though she had to taste the disgusting flavour of the mud whenever Shin knocked her down, it was all worth it if she could gain the connections of these young heroes. Perhaps, if they were feeling generous, the group might even invest in the Moon Mercenaries or give Latina the proper schooling she deserves.
Therefore, no matter rain or shine, Natalie would drag Latina out of her bed early in the morning to bake some treats just for the young heroes, which meant that the two mercenaries had spent a tremendous amount of time around Shin and the others. And today was no different.
It had almost been a week since the seven heroes first arrived at Huuring City and they showed no signs of leaving. Day by day, the group would continue on with their own activities, oblivious to the happenings of the outside world. Shin and Isadore would often spar, sharpening their spear techniques. Shizen would sleep for half the day and would only arise for food and his forced cultivation sessions with Ella. Kanari and Emma would train alongside one another. Even though it was mostly Kanari mentoring Emma in cultivation in the beginning, after that girl’s talk that they had, it had turned into researching the holy bible that was ‘The Happiness of the Imperial Maid and her Prince’. Finally, Elrin would continue her competition analysis through window shopping and would often spend hours in her room formulating plans on how the Zedcris Conglomerate could break into the market.
Each one of the youngsters had their own plans on how to spend their day. For the most part, Shin would just train with Isadore or Kanari, but neither of them were free today. During times like these, Shin would just revert back to his old habits and would spend his free time experimenting on his manipulation of water, as well as a firm review of his cultivation techniques.
When Meijing Bingying first came to the Himmel Empire, she was appalled to see how poorly Shin had cultivated all this time. Yes, he was practising the Celestial Water Mantra, the cultivation technique that was essential to all Scions of Water, but the methods that Shin had used were so backwards that Bingying nearly jumped up in fright. It was fortunate that he was only halfway through into Rank 40, which gave Bingying plenty of time to rectify Shin’s errors before he passed the first barrier of mortality.
Though the ‘cleaning’ of Shin’s cultivation technique took some time, the talented youth still managed to advance rapidly, keeping pace with Kanari’s own breakneck speed. Kanari was now at Rank 39 while Shin was firmly grounded at Rank 37. By next year, when both of them turned twenty-one, it was expected that they would set become some of the youngest cultivators to ever break through into the Spirit Spectre realm. Nonetheless, even though they had the best cultivations of anyone in their generation, that didn’t give Shin or Kanari a pass to be lazy. In fact, it was the contrary.
The prime reason why both of them were far superior to their peers, was their willingness to keep working hard even though they were light years ahead of their competition. Furthermore, since the two of them were always competing against one another, Shin and Kanari had formed a sort of friendly rivalry akin to that of Suji and Danroy back home.
Seated in a lotus position, Shin remained alone in the centre of the rocky terrain behind the inn. His eyes closed, the young cultivator was image-training all of his moves, hoping to find any deficiencies that he could improve on. While Shin could hone his martial arts through extensive sparrings, no one around him could help improve his control over water. The sole person who could train him was located thousands of kilometres away, and even if Shin did pay a visit to him, there was no guarantee that he would obtain the permission needed to impart Shin his skills.
‘How do I increase my firepower with my water bombs or mines?’ Shin thought to himself.
Ever since he first left the Empire for this adventure, Shin had encountered dozens of Spirit Adepts and a few Spirit Spectres. While his martial arts, control over the battlefield and overall combat skills were capable of overpowering any opponent, when it came to raw burst power, Shin would almost always rely on Kanari’s Lunar Beam, which was capable of obliterating a boulder within a fraction of a second.
Shin recalled the fight with the Vaishya in the forest and the mob of hooligans that attempted to seize Kanari for themselves. His water explosions or bullets were mostly ineffective against the outer coating of his opponents. And honestly, that was to be expected. Once a cultivator awakens a Spirit and begins to cultivate mana, they would obtain a faint layer of protection that would strengthen with every rank advancement. By the time a cultivator breaks through into the Spirit Adept realm, their muscles would be as sturdy as a steel cage while their mana coating would be resistant to multiple sudden impacts, such as a light explosions.
That coating wasn’t limited to the physical realm either. Mentally, there were many things that another Spirit User could do to harm a fellow cultivator. Kanari’s innate charm ability and fourth spiritual ability, the Mind Flame, were the perfect examples. Typically, the stronger the cultivator, the harder it was to bypass their natural defences. That’s why even Lady Seph, who was a Spirit Venerate that stayed the entirety of her life indoors, had the defences equal to that of the famed Shaolin Monks, even though she hadn’t spent a single second training her body.
‘I can’t just use my fourth spiritual ability just yet… Sister Bingying says that it’s way too dangerous. However, I can’t keep relying on Kanari’s Lunar Beam for firepower.’
Shin was caught in a unique predicament. He had long identified his lack of firepower and had moved to rectify it by learning that fourth spiritual ability through the help of Meijing Bingying and that ‘gift’ from Saint Longyu Tian. However, as fate would put it, that ability was too powerful for the weak mortal body of Shin’s. If he used it, there was a good chance that his innards would be blown to bits or his entire mana network would malfunction within seconds. Only by promoting to the Spirit Spectre realm would there be a better chance of Shin handling the recoil from that ability, which meant that his firepower problem still remained.
‘How am I to improve my firepower then? Add more mana? No there’s no way that it’ll work… Maybe adding downdraft to my Mines of the Ocean? No, then the rotation would go haywire…’
Shin continued to think about the possible ways that he could improve his techniques all while he was seated alone on top of a large boulder. Being such an evident figure in that rough terrain, Shin was basically a beacon for anyone that came near to the inn. Particularly one adorable little girl, who had brought over a basket of freshly baked bread.
“Latina?” It wasn’t hard for Shin to notice the young girl. The crisp aroma of toasted rye buns combined with the immature footsteps of novice sneaker gave Latina away. Shin got out of his meditative pose and jumped down from the boulder.
“I hope that I’m not disturbing your training, young hero.”
“No, you’re not. Oh, and please stop calling me that. Shin or Brother Shin is fine.”
No matter how many times he got shot with that reverent gaze, Shin could never get accustomed to people praising his name. Shin felt way more comfortable if people could let their hair down and treat him like an average person.
“T-Then, B-Brother Shin!” Latina exclaimed as if she had obtained a major privilege. Words shot out from her mouth like a rapid sharpshooter as Latina’s speech matched her anxiousness. “Aunt Natalie told me to hand over some rye buns, but you weren’t in the inn. So I came searching for you outside, and I saw you seated on a boulder. I thought that you were observing the scenery, but you were actually training, so I thought that I would leave, but you found me out so quickly. And…”
“Haha, slow down, Latina. There’s no need to rush.” Shin stroked the smooth, silky hair of the young lass. After meeting with the thirteen-year-old, the maidens in the group, mainly Elrin, were appalled at Latina’s coarse state. Her skin had numerous blisters, and her hair was as oily as a fish’s skin. It didn’t take them much deliberation for the young women to bring Latina into their showers to give her a complete makeover.
“I’m sorry…Brother Shin.”
“Hehe, now that’s better.” The black-haired youth took out one bun from the basket and happily gnawed into it. “Wow, this is really good! Did you make it?”
“Aunt Natalie helped me…” Abashed, the young girl tried to hide her flushed face, but it was to no avail. Shin had long put on a teasing grin, something that had been rubbed off onto him by the trickster Elrin. “I’m glad you liked it…”
“Haha, help me finish this Latina! I’ve eaten my breakfast already so I can’t overeat.”
The pair took their place on top of the boulder, enjoying the beautiful warm rays from the morning sun all while munching down on freshly baked rye buns. While finishing his first piece of bread, Shin looked over to the petite body of Latina’s. She was thin and lacked any sufficient muscles. Her size was equivalent to that of a baby bear cub, and Shin knew that even the slightest of impact from his spear would crumble her existence with ease. So a question emerged in the youth’s mind.
“Latina… If you don’t mind me asking, how did you get into the employment of the Moon Mercenaries?”
“No, I’m just curious. I’m sure that there are other jobs than being a mercenary. The commissions that the Mercenary Guild hands out are tough and demanding. Wouldn’t it be better if you become a baker?”
“Ah… That…” Latina stopped her chomps and placed her rye bun on her lap. “You see, in Huuring City, there’s only one way for a cultivator to advance. You can’t rely on the schools in the area since they’re all corrupt, and the merchants would much rather sell your labour than to train you. So I had no choice but to get into the mercenary business a little early. Thankfully, my father knew Aunt Natalie, so I had an easy way into the Moon Mercenaries. Normally, for a novice to enter a mid-levelled troop, they had to at least condense their Spirit Core.”
“I see…” Shin nodded. It may seem harsh for a girl like Latina to be hustling at such a young age, but such was the true nature of the world. Some people have it easy, while others were just dealt a bad hand at birth. Not every child had the choice to remain in school. “Hey, Latina! What’s your Spirit?”
“Hmmm? It’s a Sunflower. Why do you ask?”
“Oh ho? A flower-type huh?” Shin stroked his hairless chin. “Shizen has a plant-type Spirit, so maybe you could ask him for some notes to improve your cultivation.”
“Really?! I can do that?!” The girl nearly jumped down from the boulder due to her agitation. Just like Shin, Latina wished to become more powerful so that she could fend for herself. It was a pity that she lacked any resources to do just that.
“Of course! If he doesn’t agree, just come to me! I’ll set him straight for you!”
“N-No! You don’t have to do that for me, Brother Shin! I don’t want to be the cause of an argument between…” Latina wanted to continue, but she soon noticed the mischievous grin that was plastered onto Shin’s face. Finally understanding that she was being teased, the girl pouted her lips and protested:
“Brother Shin! You’re just as mean as Young Hero Elrin!”
“Hahaha! Sorry, sorry. You just resemble my younger sister back home! She used to be so lovable like you. Now she’s all tough and serious. I kind of miss that Elyse… Hmmm?” Before Shin could continue joking around, a sharp cry could be heard from the distance. Jumping up to his feet, Shin raised his right arm up high allowing a black raven to land on his wrists.
“What’s going on?” Latina asked.
“Ah…” After taking out the note attached to the feet of the bird, Shin released the bird into the air. At the same time, he unfolded that small piece of parchment and read the note carefully multiple times. Only after he confirmed its contents, did Shin reveal a radiant smile.
“The mission has arrived.”