Crack… Crack… Crack…
Crumbles of rock and dust fell from the ruins of the waterfall as the Shudras continued to dig in deeper into the wreckage. At the very forefront of the excavation, a viridian-haired princely young man was leading the charge by craving open the boulders that stood in his way with his elongated sword. Each swing that he executed sliced through the thick blockage and it seemed as if he was practising his calligraphy instead of leading a rescue mission.
At his side, four relentless Shudras did their best to keep up with their boss’ pace and continued to pick up the floating pieces of rock that he discharged. Meanwhile, the culprit of the entire fiasco, Vaishya Craig, had used his Storm Ape Spirit to good use by pounding through the rubble with his monster-like hands.
“Have you found any signs of him?!” Junius shouted.
“N-Not yet, sire!” One Shudra replied.
“Fucking useless! Keep looking!!!” Lost in his worry for Shin, Junius had turned to berating and demeaning his subordinates, a deed that he would have rarely done before. And that behaviour didn’t go unnoticed by the Black Masks. Now walking on eggshells when it came to Junius, the Shudras had kept their heads low while they whispered to one another and they weren’t the only ones. Craig and Susan, who had been digging just a few metres away, let out deep sighs as they watched their boss turn into a different person.
“That younger brother of his really means a lot to Junius huh?” Craig remarked. Even he felt guilty after watching the handsome young man grimace for that long.
“I don’t know all the details, but one of the main reasons why Junius had joined the Black Masks in the first place is to reunite his entire family. Of that family, he was the closest to his younger brother. It’s understandable that he’s worried about that boy’s safety.” Susan explained. After a while, her face of concern slowly changed in one of reprimand. “Did you really have to bring down an entire waterfall to knock him out? Couldn’t you have just slammed him into the ground?”
“Perhaps. But I was too in the moment.” The monkey man admitted his blunder. “It’s that brat’s fault though. If he had just accepted his fate, I wouldn’t have to be that violent.”
Craig thought back to the seven times where Shin almost claimed his life and shuddered as a chill ran down his spine. Junius may have blamed him, but using that attack was the only way of beating Shin down quickly and efficiently. Yes, Shin may suffer a few abrasions and might be concussed for a few days, but that was the best way for Craig to complete Junius’ orders.
“Hey… Don’t you think that Junius is different? Normally, he wouldn’t bat an eye if hundreds were massacred before him. Yet, for the sake of this brat, he suddenly turns into mister goody pants. Also, he let those witnesses go! I swear if they come back with White Knights, wouldn’t we all be screwed?”
“What are you suggesting, Craig?”
The monkey man checked that Junius was still busy digging a hole in the rubble before leaning into his partner’s ears. With a hushed voice, Craig whispered the diabolical plan that he had just hatched.
“We should end that brat before he becomes too much of a thorn in our flesh. If we find him, I’ll land the killing strike. One second is all I need. As long as you stop Junius for one second, I can give that brat a painless death.”
“Junius will kill you!” Susan gasped and threw her head forward. “You saw how much he cares his little brother! If you kill him, Junius would be sure to send you through a thousand tortures. He’ll cut your flesh a thousand times, castrate you, burn you, pull your fingernails out… Are you sure you want to take that risk?!”
“If it means that the old Junius would come back, sure!” Craig didn’t mind being subjected to the vilest of tortures that the Black Masks possessed. “We can’t let this brat affect his decision making. Junius has a perfect record in the syndicate thus far, and if this fucking rascal comes into the equation, I’m afraid that everything would go downhill from here. To protect our faction, killing that brat is the only option!”
“You…” Susan pointed the finger at the gorilla before realising that he made a tonne of sense. Junius was acting differently from his ruthless self. He had let Kanari, Isadore, Emma, Natalie and Latina go, even though they were crucial witnesses that could compromise their base’s location. Furthermore, Junius was rescuing someone from the Alliance, who he would generally considered the ‘enemy,’ as they spoke. All of these factors weren’t standard Junius behaviour, and Shin had just shown himself back into Junius’ life. Just imagine, if Shin was brought back into the syndicate. Wouldn’t that spell the end of the Awter Faction?
“Fine, I’ll hold him back for a second…” Susan finally acquiesced. “At least make it painless.”
The excavation for Shin’s injured body continued for almost ten minutes after. The deeper the Black Masks went, the more frustrated Junius had become. Shin wasn’t showing up even though they had tunnelled through seventy percent of the rubble. That attack from Craig wasn’t a light one. If Shin wasn’t treated immediately, there was a high likelihood that the young man would have perished right then and there.
‘Shin… You have to be alright!!!’ Junius had just been reunited with his younger brother. Yet, just moments after their reunion, Shin was now buried under thousands of boulders, and his fate was uncertain. ‘If you perish… How am I going to explain to Shia and Senior Vellan?! How can I face my father?! How can I…’
Junius continued to plummet through the debris all while letting his thoughts run wild. The speed of his odachi swings became faster and faster in hopes of finding the single source of light within the darkness of the ruined waterfall. All that he wished for was the safety of his one brother that he loved the most.
‘Come on… Come on… Huh?’
After slicing open just one more boulder, Junius noticed a strange oddity. Some of the water droplets that were raining down from the top of the wreckage were currently levitating in the air, defying all the rules of gravity. Initially, there were only a few water droplets making its way into the sky. However, as time progressed, two became four. Four became eight. Eight became sixteen. Until eventually…
A hydro pump of immense water pressure broke free from the debris, knocking Junius and the Shudras that stood next to him, straight into the lake underneath the rubble. The ruined waterfall turned cerulean for that brief moment as a scaly silhouette broke through while every single Black Mask were stunned by the suddenness of the explosion. Dozens of water golems jumped straight at the nearby foes while swirling water spheres were left behind in the trail. Taking advantage of the confusion, a light mist began to form, blocking the figure’s retreat to safety.
“DAMN IT!!! EVERYONE CHASE!!!” Junius quickly recovered and barked out his orders. He knew that he had been taken for a ride by Shin’s craftiness.
“Susan! Aide me!”
There was one person that couldn’t be happier about Shin’s retreat. Coating his four limbs with dark whirlwinds once more, the ripped man barged straight out of the waterfall to give chase to the speeding young man. Each punch he fired tore through the water golems as if they were logs barring an oxen’s charge. The water spheres that Shin had left behind detonated when Craig came close to them, but the monkey man didn’t care. Braving through the pain, Craig continued in his assault on the runaway Shin, who had barely made it out fifty metres.
‘Fuck! He’s quick!’ Shin cursed. Using his Dance of the Valkyrie, Shin could match the speed of a fully matured cheetah, and not many were capable of catching up to him. Not to mention, he had placed numerous hindrances that would at the very least slow his pursuers down by a few milliseconds. However, Craig wasn’t any mere hunter. He had the speed of the wind behind his back and possessed superior flying abilities due to his Spirit Spectre nature. There was no way that Shin could outrun him in a race.
‘How about this?!’ Spinning his hands around, Shin created dozens of spears and water bombs that would impede anyone who chased him. At the intensity of the chase, Shin didn’t have the luxury to slowly form intricate structures. He could only revert back to the most basic figures from his memory.
Alas, that brashness came at a price.
Craig extended his fist, creating yet another tornado strike that destroyed any obstacles that came into his path. Now that he didn’t have any restrictions, the monkey man didn’t have any qualms about using his full power for every strike.
‘Tsk, this asshole really is annoying!!!’ Shin clicked his tongue and continued his retreat.
Vaishya Craig really was the worst matchup for the youth. Though they were somewhat equal when it came to martial arts, the monkey man had the edge with his powers of the storm. Shin’s created water or ice would be blown to shreds by Craig’s tornado punches. Even his trusted mist that was his get-out-of-jail-free card was rendered obsolete by the amount of wind that the Storm Ape could create.
Shin managed to traverse a full three kilometres before the Vaishya managed to catch up with his retreating ass. Evidently, Shin’s Dance of the Valkyrie was still inferior to a Spirit Spectre’s flying ability, particularly one that the wind elements smile upon. Shin resigned that he wasn’t able to leave without putting some sort of fight and spun the Spear of Aiglos around.
A disgustingly hateful smile crept up the corners of Craig’s face as he watched the young black-haired man slow down. His eyes turned crimson, and face began to flush. All of his muscles swelled up as a tremendous amount of mana spewed out from his purple veins, releasing out a tonne of killing intent. The black metallic chain on his back shone even more brilliantly forcing his immediate surrounding to become a little distorted as a colossal amount of mana flowed from Susan’s body into the monkey man. He wasn’t striking to incapacitate. Craig was going for the kill.
Noticing the change, Shin immediately went on the defensive. A transparent bubble with honeycomb sheets enveloped his entire body, and the Spear of Aiglos was sent forward as a buffer.
The deadly clash finally occurred. Shin could only see a speeding fist, one that was quickly the size of an entire watermelon. This tornado fist continues to dig in deeper into the bubble, created a dent that nearly reached the centre of his face. Without even looking at the state of his protection, Shin knew that the fist would soon collide with his body. He turned the Spear of Aiglos and held it in a javelin position, waiting for the perfect time to release the spear with all his might.
The bubble protecting Shin broke into a million particles, giving the Prince of Water the signal to strike. The tip of the Spear of Aiglos collided violently with Craig’s black whirlwind coated fist, sending shockwaves all around the decrepit valley. The impact sent both parties flying in opposite directions. Shin to the ground while Craig whirled into the air.
‘That asshole! He tried to kill me!’ Shin exclaimed. Up till now, the Vaishya had never released a fatal blow, fearing that his strike would end the life of his boss’ beloved younger brother. However, that last jab was far from pulling his punches. If that hit had connected with Shin, his life would have undeniably been forfeit.
His options were limited now. Craig could outrun him. Junius could reach him at any moment now. And there wasn’t any help in sight. If Shin wanted to survive, he had to do something drastic.
‘I didn’t want to use this… But it looks like there’s no other choice!!!’
Watching as the levitating Vaishya regained his bearings and the wound on his right hand healed, Shin had to go to his trump card. He closed his eyes and opened all of his pores. The surrounding water elements all smiled with joy and danced their way towards the young man. Shin held his left hand over his right and closed it tightly. All of his mana flowed from his core, mind and body, into that small point that he had created.
A sharp, resonant cry, one highly resembling that of a siren’s wail, echoed through the valley, bringing the entire world to a standstill. From his clasped fingers, a bright, divine radiance akin to that of heaven’s gate opening itself, illuminated the whole area, striking fear in any who saw its light.
‘What’s that?’ Craig thought to himself. The amount of mana that Shin was releasing far surpassed that of a Spirit Adept and was marginally into the realm of a Spirit Lord. As he descended to the ground, the Vaishya felt his entire skin crawl as a primal instinct awakened within his consciousness. He didn’t want to move closer, but his body was inching forward anyway. It was as if the light had a magnetic effect that would awe any life form.
‘So pretty… So powerful…’ Craig felt his head spin, and his world collapsed as the light got brighter and brighter. The Sovereign Koi around Shin spun around in circles, excited that it could finally execute this deadly attack once more. Alas, it was not its day.
Before Shin could continue charging his strike, a gorgeous sword descended from the heavens like a shooting star and impaled itself into the ground before of Shin. A misty wreath of icy cold smog froze the moist soil within seconds and the shock that Shin sustained forced him to release his hold over the object in his hands.
‘The Spectral Reaver Blade?! Does that mean?!’
Confirming his hypothesis, a dainty figure flew down like a fairy and landed right before the icy blade. Not ageing even a single day since he last met her, Shin watched on as the young woman pulled out her sword and turned to him with a devastatingly beautiful smile. That smile was one that thousands of young men and women in the Lantis Republic would love to witness, but Shin had seen it thousands of times before, and it meant one thing… The heavenly maiden was absolutely livid.