“Huh?” Seeing that his identity was so effortlessly revealed by the young man before him, Junius furrowed his brows. Slowly releasing his mana, the Vaishya dropped down from the skies and landed just five metres away from the huddled-up group. At the same time, Junius removed the dark mask that covered his appearance allowing everyone present to observe his young, healthy face.
Draped in a pitch-black battle robe that was tightly fitted to highlight his entire curves, the young man in his prime looked like a herald for the King of Hell that was sent to the surface to seduce any who got in his way. At twenty-four, Junius’ features had been fully matured but he also lacked a single freckle or wrinkle that would show his age. His rich viridian hair flowed down to the bottom of his neck while his fringe hid the prominent eyebrows that would be the envy of any man. Completely lean and angular, the young man didn’t have a single ounce of excess fat on his body and his physique was in no way inferior to Shin’s. In fact, due to his superior height, Junius was way more dashing and well-proportioned.
Everyone in the group gasped as they watched the young man pace closer towards them. For Natalie and Latina, they had anticipated a much more ruffian look from a Black Mask Vaishya. Thus Junius’ prim and scholarly appearance took them by surprise. On the other hand, Kanari and Isadore were carefully examining the viridian-haired man. They had heard many stories about Junius during their five years of friendship with Shin and the twins, and they had painted their own pictures of the menacing traitor that had caused the deaths of Ariel and many of the orphans’ loved ones. However, the more they looked at Junius’ well-toned face and charming expression, the more they couldn’t understand how such an unthreatening young man could have caused that much grief and destruction.
And finally, there were the two orphans among the group. Emma raised her Ice Bow and nocked an arrow immediately, pointing it straight at Junius without caring about her past ties. While the surrounding Black Masks were prepared to defend their leader, Junius raised his left hand up in the air, ordering his men to stand down.
At this moment, there was only one face in his mind. Nothing in the world mattered now. Junius’ eyes glistened as they watched over the tall black-haired young man that stood at the forefront of the group. He had clear-blue azure eyes, one that reflected an entire lake within its pupils. His body was fit, and his complexion was pinkish in health. Over the past few years, he had grown tremendously.
Gone was the short and clingy boy that wiped his snot over Junius’ shirt whenever he wanted. Gone was the timid young kid that never wished to hike hours for training. However, one thing remained constant, even with the years of change, the years where Junius wasn’t there with him. His adamant face, the expression that showed that he would never give in. That still remained and that emotion was now directed firmly straight in Junius’ direction.
The two greeted each other. They were only separated by a distance of five metres, but they felt as if they were standing right in front of each other. How many times has it been? How many times have they had this exchange in their childhood?
“You’ve grown…” Not knowing the words to say, Junius just blurted the first thing that came to his mind.
“And you’ve haven’t changed a bit.” Shin spun the Spear of Aiglos around and entered into a semi-combative stance. As much as he wished to take Junius into custody right now, his group was severely outnumbered and possibly outmatched. Furthermore, they had to protect Latina and Natalie, two innocent bystanders that had nothing to do with his dispute with Junius. Thus, the most critical thing for Shin was to help his friends safely retreat, and then he could take all the time in the world to apprehend the villain before his eyes.
“Emma, you’ve grown as well.”
“Brother Junius…” Still pointing her Ice Bow straight at her fallen brother, Emma desperately tried to control the myriad of emotions that were welling up in her chest. She hated Junius, but she couldn’t bring herself to harm him. After all, they were once close family. Fortunately, Emma didn’t have to make that soul-wrenching decision.
“You have made quite a name for yourself, Junius. You took the Awter name and committed all sorts of atrocities with it. Are you not ashamed?”
“Shin…” The gravel under Junius’ feet trembled as he took one step further into Shin’s range. “I did everything for the family! I just want us all to live happily without any fear of oppression!”
“Even if it means killing thousands of innocent lives?!”
“You don’t understand, Shin! The survivors of the Awter Clan are all living in peace under the Allfather’s protection! You’ve met Shia! There are dozens like her back in our camp! We can live in peace with our family, Shin! You can live in peace with YOUR real family!!!”
“YOU KILLED ARIEL!!!”
The thunderous shout silenced the crowded cataract, leaving only the splashing sound of a waterfall crashing into a basin. Shin had his spear raised while his head hung down. His shoulders shaking like a leaf, while gorgeous clandestine beads dripped to the floor from his face. No one could see Shin’s face, but they could tell that the boy was far from just shaken.
“Brother Shin…” Latina placed both her hands together like a nun and watched the turmoil that Shin was undergoing from afar. The Shin that she knew was indomitable and never allowed his emotions to take control of his actions. However, right now, that very same hero, the person that had saved her twice and had given her a lifeline to hang onto, was now in a state of complete disarray.
“You… killed Ariel…” Shin choked on his words, desperately trying to stop the sobbing from interfering with his speech. Alas, Shin was way too emotional to revert back to normal. “You killed Ariel… You killed Sister Lily… You killed Linus… You turned the First Elder against us! You forced the Instructor to force us out with tears in his eyes! It’s because of you that I wasn’t allowed to give her a farewell… YOU EVEN KILLED LILY, YOUR LOVED ONE!!! How could you say anything about the family?! You’re the one that took our family away from us!!!”
“Shin…” Junius nearly dropped his weapon to run forward to give his younger brother an embrace. Unfortunately, a silver-haired young man, wielding a pernicious spear of his own, blocked the path to Shin as if he were a gatekeeper to the world’s most precious treasure.
“Shin, how are you holding up?” Isadore questioned. No matter how touching the reunion, the group was currently under a tremendous threat. Surrounded on all fronts by three Rank 40 Spirit Spectres and seven Rank 30 Spirit Adepts. If they had their full force with them, perhaps this predicament wouldn’t be that much of an issue. However, they currently had four out of seven members. Furthermore, they had two pieces of baggage that were called Latina and Natalie. Isadore couldn’t afford for Shin to lose himself at this precarious moment.
“I’m fine…” Isadore’s sharp and sonorous voice awakened the fogged mind of Shin’s, and the young man wiped his wet face with the sleeves of his robes. “Isadore, take the rest and run. Junius is my burden to carry.”
Isadore nearly shat his pants when he heard his friend’s declaration. “Shin! They have three Spirit Spectres! No matter how powerful you are, there’s no way you can take on three Spirit Spectres and seven Spirit Adepts!”
A Spirit Spectre was vastly different than a Spirit Adept. For one, after crossing the first barrier of mortality, they had double the lifespan and mana than that of a Spirit Adept. Additionally, once at that level, they had the power to control the elements around them with half the effort. Though Shin was talented enough to take on that deficit and defeat a Spirit Spectre one-on-one, there was no way that he could handle three of them at the same time.
“I may not be able to beat them, but I can hold them off!” A deep, intense fire burned within the depths of Shin’s soul. Any fatigue that he once had dissipated into nothingness and his blood continued to boil in intense rage. “Once you’re safe, fire the flares! I’ll make my retreat then!”
“I’m not going to let you fight them alone!” Isadore continued to persuade the young man.
“I’m not alone…” Shin pinned down the Spear of Aiglos on the soften soil ground and closed his eyes with his two hands raised. Almost instantly, the temperature of the surroundings began to drop rapidly as gallons of water formed seemingly out of nothingness. Twisting and turning his hands, Shin used the created water to form numerous humanoid water golems, each rather coarse in its design. Moving about like the training golems that Imperius Academy possesses, the water creatures surrounded the group as if they were bodyguards protecting their most valuable asset.
“Shape-Style Technique, Army of Water. I can use the golems to hold them off and to protect your retreat. Once you’re safe, I can use my mist to escape.” Shin explained his plan and grabbed his bosom friend’s right arm. Soon, a foggy mist formed behind of the two, hiding the remaining members of the group from the sights of the Black Masks. “Isadore, please. We can’t let Latina die. Not on my watch.”
“Shin, you…” The silver-haired man turned back and stared at the two Moon Mercenaries that were hired to be their guides. They were wholly innocent parties, and it wouldn’t sit right with Shin should anything happen to them.
“Fine! I’ll bring them to safety! However, I’m coming straight back to help you! Don’t die until then!” Isadore jumped back and left Shin alone to deal with the Black Masks. At the same time, some of Shin’s water golems retreated to protect the escape of his friends.
Seeing that Shin was left alone, the Black Masks surrounding the group attempted the move against the young man, only to be stopped by Junius once more.
“Vaishya Junius… They were the ones who killed Sanbert” One Shudra complained.
“If you dare to touch one hair on him, all of your guts will be ripped from your throats and fed to my dogs!!!” Junius pointed his Spirit Armament odachi at the Black Mask who didn’t know his place. Forced back to being a spectator, the Shudra hung his head down and shuffled his feet aside, leaving Shin to execute whatever skills that he had.
‘You’ve grown…’ The lips on Junius’ face arched upwards as he watched Shin’s created water being generated in bulk. Before, Shin was only capable of creating small water spheres that could barely harm a soul. Now, he able to create a mini army all for himself. ‘I’m sure Vellan and Shia would be delighted to see you again. Hah… Allfather, forgive me for going against your will.’
The World Serpent, Ao had once ordered Junius to give up on acquiring Shin and the orphans. However, how could he? The only reason why the Vellan and the others had joined the Black Masks in the first place was the revival of the Awter Clan, and Shin was a pivotal piece to complete the clan’s resurrection. If Junius could bring Shin back and indoctrinate him into the syndicate, everything that he had been fighting for would have been worth it.
“Kanari, let’s move. Shin will hold them off.” While the Black Masks were arguing amongst themselves, Isadore took this chance to relay Shin’s message to the team.
“Are you crazy?! There’s no way that he’ll win against this many Spirit Spectres!”
“Don’t worry! From what I can see, Junius doesn’t want to kill him.” Isadore calmed the girl down and turned his attention to the Latina and Natalie. “Once we get those two to safety and fire the flare, we can return to save him. You know Shin and his tenacity. He won’t go down that easily.”
“Tskkk… Fine!” Kanari clicked her tongue and grabbed Latina by her waist. With her Spiritual Body Enhancement, Kanari’s speed was in no way inferior to that of a Spirit Spectre. “We’re leaving!”
Not willing to waste any time, Kanari launched herself straight back into the valley in hopes of finding a suitable place to dump the two handicaps that they had. Likewise, Isadore and Emma used the cover of Shin’s created mist to run far away from their enemies.
Initially, the Black Masks wanted to give chase, but they were once again stopped by Junius’ raised hand.
“Ignore them,” said Junius. The crystals in his eyes glistened in a jubilant light as he watched over the sole black-haired man that stood just a few metres away from him. Oh, how long has he dreamed of this day? Once Shin was returned to the Awter Clan, their revenge would be half complete. Before, he was banned from approaching Shin due to his secure location and the Allfather’s orders. However, now that Shin had delivered himself to his doorstep, how could Junius possibly squander this opportunity?
Like a fanatic that had finally obtained his prized possession, Junius released a disgustingly sweet smile. He pointed his odachi straight at Shin and ordered out with the most domineering tone that he had.