“Sister Bingying…” Shin called out the woman’s name. At the same time, two other figures descended alongside the young maiden and surrounded the floored Shin. One of them had summoned out his Heavenly Sturgeon Spirit to threaten the Vaishya from taking one further step while the other, an elderly man that Shin had never met before, simply stood there with an inquisitive glint in his eye.
Though, Shin didn’t care about that. He called out the woman that stood before him once more. However, the sky-blue haired maiden didn’t bother to reply. She looked forward at the Vaishya and wholly ignored the young man that was sprawled on the floor. So, Shin decided to try again.
“Sister Bingying? Sister Bingying?!”
“Oh, you still treat me as a sister huh?” The maiden finally responded to Shin after some pushing. “And here I’d thought that you’ve forgotten how to listen to my advice. Did I not tell you about the repercussions of using the shard?!”
“Ah… I…” Shin scratched the back of his head in embarrassment. He had been warned many times about the dangers of using his fourth spiritual ability. Shin had even felt the devastation once before when he had first assimilated with the precious relic to learn that deadly ability. Back then, Shin was instantly sent to the hospital and only with the constant care of Lady Seph, and a plethora of other healers did he somewhat recover. However, even then it took him almost three months to fully regain control over his mana circuits and spiritual energies.
And that was when the shard was at its weakest! Now that Shin had progressed rapidly from Rank 30 to Rank 37, his mana pool was much more profound, and the shard had assimilated even more into his Spiritual Body. If Shin had used his fourth ability right now, in the middle of nowhere where the nearest medical facility was thousands of kilometres away, the damage done to his body would be unfathomable.
“Sorry about that…” Shin apologetically bowed his head and shifted his gaze away. Though Meijing Bingying was tough on his training, he knew that she wanted the best for him. “Sister Bingying, what are you even doing here anyway?! I’d thought that you had returned to the Lantis republic?!”
“Wow, you sure are dense. Did you honestly think that the Alliance would allow you to partake on such a dangerous expedition alone? Even if the Himmel Empire would, there’s no way the Lantis Republic or Saint Longyu Tian would allow you to move about unguarded. We have been tailing you and your friends from the start.” The Pearl in the East didn’t bother to hide her stalking mission.
“Wait! You mean that all those times that we were in danger…”
“That’s right. We were watching all of it. We had orders to not show our presence unless your life was in danger, so we didn’t do anything. After all, you had to gain some life and combat experiences on the road.”
“Wait!!! What about the time that we almost lost our lives taking on that Black Mask base?! Or the time we almost got mauled to shreds by Tier 5 Spirit Beasts?!”
“Didn’t you say almost?” Meijing Bingying grimaced and used her middle finger to flick the boy’s forehead. “If you really were to perish, Elder Baobiao here would have used all of his might to rescue you.”
“Elder Baobiao?” Shin turned to the wizened wrinkled gentleman that was draped in full grey robes. He didn’t look intimidating at all, and there wasn’t even a whiff of spiritual energy being released from the man. However, Shin knew to never judge a book by its cover. Most experts didn’t like to show their powers unless it was absolutely necessary and the man before him was most likely in the same camp.
“That’s right. He’s a Spirit Venerate specially dispatched to look after you. Now, do you understand why the Alliance had kept your bodyguard services under wraps?”
If Shin and his team knew that there was a Spirit Venerate continually monitoring and protecting them at their every move, there was no doubt that they would become infinitely more reckless and their little expedition wouldn’t give them the life experience needed to survive in the pugilist world. Heck, they probably wouldn’t even have cared about finding resources themselves. They would have just resorted to using the Spirit Venerate that was travelling with them all the time.
While the Alliance agreed that Shin was a talent that needed to be protected, they didn’t want him to be pampered. The same went with the other geniuses that were in his group. Kanari and Elrin thought that they were stripped clean of their guards and had to survive solely with their own might. That forced them to become more independent with their actions and more cautious with their plannings. Nonetheless, if there really were a risk to their lives, their protectors would rush out from the shadows and pull them straight into safety.
“We can discuss those irrelevant topics later. What’s more important now is…” Meijing Bingying swung the sword that was wreathed with frosty mist straight at the Vaishya that floated in the air as a torrent of mana dominated her surroundings. Instantaneously, the entire rocky terrain had been replaced with arctic ice that not even molten lava could melt down, all while ice spears congregated themselves around the maiden. “Is that we deal with that asshole who tried to kill my younger brother!”
At that moment, the Pearl in the East was fully unleashed. A blue phantom shaped like a narwhal appeared above her head and split into numerous particles that twinkled through the arena like starlight falling from the heavens. The temperature of the summer valley dipped drastically as Meijing Bingying’s domain stretched far and wide, covering everything it touched with ice and hail. The Spectral Reaver sword glimmered like a misty gem, bringing forth even more frost to the already glacial land.
Jumping straight into combat, Bingying swung the sword horizontally at Vaishya Craig at a speed that was no way inferior to his own. Still stunned by the sudden appearance of the three Lantis Republic bodyguards, the monkey man was slow to react and could only harden his skin with mana and hope for the best.
Unfortunately, today wasn’t his day. The Spectral Reaver Blade effortlessly tore through the flesh of the gigantic gorilla. Crimson blood that flowed out spontaneously bloomed into gorgeous red crystals, denying any sort of immediate treatment that Vaishya Susan could provide. Tortured by the agony, Craig couldn’t notice that the Spectral Reaver Blade had made its round and was now on its way back to behead the shaken up man. And when he did see the beautiful sword edge reaching his forehead, it was a tad too late.
“Hoho… So you finally decide to make your move, huh? Blade of Death?”
Before Bingying could execute her foe, a secondary odachi appeared out of nowhere and blocked the Spectral Reaver blade. At the end of its hilt, a viridian-haired young man, who had his face dropped so that no one could observe his expression, held firm against the Pearl in the East’s assault. The spiritual properties of the Spectral Reaver Blade were incapable of freezing the well-built sword that possessed its own form of mana protection, and the two Legendary-Grade Spiritual Armaments were evenly matched.
“Who the hell are you and why are you interfering with my family’s business?!” An exasperated cry, one so low that it could have been mistaken as a baby’s wail, echoed itself through the brains of those present.
“Your family? Don’t make me laugh!” Bingying pushed the young man away with one angry swing, sending ice particles straight at the Black Mask. However, the gem on Junius’ odachi released an energy pulse that blocked all forces that dared to come near to him and his side escaped mostly unscathed. “You killed people that you claim were your family! Did you honestly think that we’ll hand Shin straight into your hands?!”
“What do you know?! You’re just a fucking outsider!”
“Hmph! An outsider? Let me tell you this! I’m more blood related to Shin than you could ever dream of being! You and your father are just a strays that the Awter Clan picked up! Now you even wag your tail to another master! Did you honestly think that we’ll just let Shin run to your hands?” Meijing Bingying continued her assault on Junius, but all her blows and words were being parried at breakneck speeds.
Each time the Pearl in the East swung her sword, Junius met it with an equal amount of force. Each stab, slash, hack or swing, were effortlessly pushed to a side and Bingying couldn’t find a way through to Junius’ flesh. She felt as if she was fighting against an ever flowing river. No matter how many times she struck, there wouldn’t be any disruption in the water body.
‘His swordplay is better than mine?!’ The Pearl in the East became slightly agitated as she admitted her inferiority. When it came to sword arts, Meijing Bingying felt that her skills were capable of threatening some disciples of the undisputable hegemon of all swordplay, the Dalgeom Sect. However, she was currently facing troubles even dealing with one mere Vaishya.
After dozens of exchanges, it became increasingly evident that Bingying’s skills weren’t capable of leaving a single dent of Junius’ defences. Hopping away to safety, the young maiden turned to her own spiritual abilities and summoned out a torrent of ice particles in hopes of freezing the young man. However, the gem of Junius’ odachi shone once more and created a force field that blocked all of Bingying’s ice particles.
“What an amazing weapon you have… I take it that’s the Blade of Death.”
“Don’t be foolish…” Junius scoffed at the maiden before pointing his odachi straight at her once more. “If I showed you the Blade of Death, you’ll be dead by now.”
“How scary…” Meijing Bingying rolled her eyes. “As much as I would like to sample that threat. I can’t afford to play with you much longer. You see, there’s a bounty on your head and my little brother here would love to see you being brought to justice. So the fun and games are over. Elder Baobiao! Please restrain him!!!”
At that moment, a dense spiritual pressure mounted on all of the Black Masks’ bodies as they were forced straight onto the floor. The Shudras had all their limbs sprawled out on all fours while the Vaishyas were on their knees, desperate to keep their heads afloat. The unsuspecting old man, who had been watching from the sidelines, finally made his move. Each one of the Black Masks felt as if a thousand boulders had been mounted onto their bodies, cracking each bone and straining every muscle that they had.
They were at the end of their ropes. A Spirit Venerate had them locked down, and there was no one else present to assist them in their escape. Dark, ethereal matter dropped from their face masks, blanketing the valley floor with black smoke as if signalling their final stand against the monolith force that stood in their way.
“Surrender, and no one will die!” Elder Baobiao said those cliched words. Honestly, if it were up to him, he would have executed all of the Black Masks present to honour some of their dead victims. Now that he was part of the Alliance, the Spirit Venerate had to abide by the rules laid down by the organisation.
Unconsciously, the Spirit Venerate had somewhat lessened the pressure, allowing that one Vaishya to creep up to his feet. Bit by bit, Junius took significant strides to stand up against the elderly man who was capable of wrecking his entire cultivation with a flick of his wrist. All of his veins were showing, and his calm and collected face was overwritten with an agonised one.
“Let… me… tell… you… this…” Junius enunciated each word with difficulty, pushing through the immense pressure that the Spirit Venerate had mounted on his flesh. “The Black Masks… NEVER SURRENDERS!!!”
An electric flash grazed through the skies, bringing forth the wrath of the thunder gods with it. Heavy winds torrented through the horizons, creating a deadly hurricane that devastated the valley. The tempest uprooted everything that remained in the valley, be it trees, boulders or even the canyon itself. Endless amounts of rainwater splashed down from the heavens blurring all line of sight for the Alliance members, and the torrential wind began to carry all the Black Masks away from the dangerous Spirit Venerate.
“WAIT!!! JUNIUS!!!” Shin hollered out. He was this close to nabbing the youth and achieving his first objective. Yet, the young man was currently being whisked away at rapid speeds.
“Stay inside my barrier!!!” Elder Baobiao grabbed Shin by the nape of his neck and threw him back into the turtle energy shell that he had created. Against winds like this, a Spirit Adept such as Shin had no chance of holding his ground and was sure to be swept updraft.
Hopelessly watching as Junius and his cronies were whisked away to safety, Shin saw the lips of Junius move, wording out every feeling that he had for the youth.
‘I’ll find you…’
And just like that, Junius and his subordinates disappeared into the horizon, leaving Shin and the members from the Lantis Republic clueless on what had just transpired. Elder Baobiao slowly allowed his barrier to fade away and pivoted his head around. Earlier, the entire group were standing in a dry and decrepit valley, filled with endless amounts of rock and moss. However, after the deadly storm, all that remained were the dust of the gravel, and the wild valley had turned into a vast plateau.
“To create such a phenomenon… They must be at least assisted by a Rank 80 Spirit Venerate or a Tier 9 Spirit Beast.” Elder Baobiao deduced.
“No matter. We have already sounded the horn. The White Knights are on their way.” Though she was mildly miffed that she wasn’t able to arrest Junius, Meijing Bingying still kept her hopes high. “We can encircle the Crypts of the First Men before dusk. They have nowhere to hide… Don’t worry Shin, we’ll catch him and make him pay for his sins.”
“Thank you…” Though he answered, Shin was still building sandcastles in the air. His mind placed the words of the fleeing Vaishya on repeat. Their last meeting was over six years ago, but Shin still remembered that face as if it were yesterday. And most importantly… Shin remembered the reason why he so religiously pursued Junius up till the point of breaking his flesh in training and undergoing years of endless torture to strengthen himself.
‘Junius… I’ll make sure you pay for killing Ariel!!!’