Just moments after the hurricane swept through the Estrella Region and devastated all flora and fauna that thrived within its borders, hundreds of experts from the Alliance rode in on their Pegasus and Gryphons, bringing forth a line of divine light and hope to the decrepit land. For Meijing Bingying and Elder Baobiao, calling for help from the Alliance was as easy as blowing a whistle. In less than six hours, the entire region had been surrounded by hordes of Spirit Lords and Spirit Kings, with a handful of Spirit Emperors leading the charge.
Once the Alliance had gotten wind that Junius, as well as a possible Tier 9 Spirit Beast, was residing inside of the Crypts of the First Men, they had dispatched all of their fastest riders to surround the area to prevent the Black Masks from escaping to safety. Simultaneously, they had ordered a full-on march of a few thousand troops to encircle the Estrella Region with four groups of White Knights overseeing the whole operation.
For the Alliance, Shin’s discovery was potentially the most significant blow to the Black Masks since the war against them had begun. If they could nab one of the executives in the syndicate that had planned the massacre in the Land of Dreams, the Alliance would gain their first real win in this war. Therefore, they didn’t want to mess it up. Pouring all sorts of resources to keep their caged rat trapped, by the end of the day, there was already an encampment set up just outside of the Ancient Graveyard, with the entire Estrella Region cordoned off from the public.
The cries of the tamed Spirit Beasts thundered through the crudely made tents as the luminescence of the full moon shone down on the encampment. Shin and his few Lantis Republic mates were reporting straight to the commander about their encounter with Junius and had recounted the might of the hurricane which helped them to escape.
“Elder Baobiao… Even you couldn’t stop them from running?” Seated at the opposite end of the tea table, a sombre tone called out to the elderly man. Donned in a resplendent golden armour, the matured woman who seemed to be at the peak of her prime cautiously questioned the Spirit Venerate.
“I could have, but if I did, these youngsters here would have been blown away as well.” Elder Baobiao lazily replied. “My job here is a guard not to arrest Black Masks. When it came down to it, I chose the safety of these kids over taking hold of those criminals. I hope that’s not an issue.”
“How could I blame you?” The woman shook her head while looking at the two younglings seated to his left and right. One was considered to be the most peerless female cultivator in the Lantis Republic and was already an accomplished name in the cultivation world. The other was perhaps the most prodigal cultivator in the world, so much so that two of the world’s superpowers nearly waged war against one another for his signature. If she were in his shoes, the White Knight would have unquestionably prioritised their safety over nabbing a few Black Masks. “These are just procedures. After a few more questions, you’ll be free to go.”
The woman tapped on the desk twice before crossing out some of the irrelevant queries that would only serve to waste time. After turning the pages once or twice, the lady commander looked at the black-haired young man, deciding to conclude their meeting with a few short queries.
“Shin Iofiel. Your mission for scouting the Estrella Region has proven to be a success. You have eliminated most of the places that we never knew existed and had circled down the potential Black Mask retreat routes. The headquarters would be pleased.”
“I can’t take all the credit. I had an amazing team and had assistance from a fantastic guide.” Shin shook his head and listed the names of his friends and the young thirteen-year-old that had shown him the way.
“So I’ve heard.” The White Knight nodded her head. “Nonetheless, your contributions would be recorded accordingly, and the Alliance would reward you handsomely. If we really catch Junius and whatever else the Black Masks are hiding, we would take one step closer to ending this long-drawn war.”
Hearing that he would be rewarded didn’t really put a smile on Shin’s face. Instead, his eyes dropped, and his lips began to twitch, prompting the commander to examine the young man once more. “Is there something wrong?”
“May I be forefront?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“I don’t want to be rewarded handsomely. All I want is to be there when the Alliance arrests Junius once and for all.” Shin declared, his posture as straight as can be. Shin had been chasing after Junius for the better part of six years. He had trained tirelessly to improve himself so that he could personally nab his fallen brother and bring him to justice. Now that Junius had been cornered, there was no way that Shin would squander this chance. “Please! I can work as a porter or a cleaner. Just let me be there when Junius is finally brought to justice!!!”
The White Knight furrowed her brows and seriously considered letting the boy join their final assault. No one knew how fortified the Crypts of the First Men were. Though they had raided dozens of Black Masks bases, they had never infiltrated one where a leading executive stayed. Not to mention, there was still the mysterious force that created the hurricane just moments prior. To call the mission risky was an understatement and having young geniuses such as Shin partake in such an endeavour could be catastrophic. However, as someone who had lost some of her loved ones in the war against the Black Masks, the White Knight Commander could understand a little of Shin’s frustrations.
“We can’t let you join the main force… But I’ll tell you what. When the fighting begins, I’m sure that the Black Masks would send thousands of Spirit Beasts to overwhelm our forces. You can join the backlines to help us thin out the numbers. Once it’s safe, I’ll give you a few minutes to talk to the Blade of Death before he gets moved to Alliance headquarters.”
“Deal!!!” Shin immediately agreed. He feared that the Alliance would instantly send him home now that his mission of scouting the area was over. Fortunately, the White Knight Commander was emphatic to his drive and gave him a minor role. At long last, his six years of training, pouring out blood, sweat and tears, could come to a conclusion with Junius’ capture.
The golden-armoured lady smiled and folded the papers before her. “That’s all for now. Once reinforcements arrive, we will begin out assault on the Crypts of the First Men. All of you should take a well-deserved rest.”
“Thank you, ma’am!!!” Shin saluted the commander while Meijing Bingying and Elder Baobiao snickered.
Leaving the tent with the red-faced young man who had seemed to have finished a marathon, the sky-blue haired maiden turned around and pulled on the youth’s ear. “Hoho, you sure have some guts. Getting into a war when we’re sent specifically to protect you.” Meijing Bingying jokingly chided the young man.
“I didn’t mean to! I just…”
“Haha! Ying’er. You know that Shin doesn’t mean it that way.” Xunyu Huanyuan grabbed the girl’s hand and assisted Shin. “He’s just excited that he’ll get to catch Junius.”
“Hah, I know that Huanyuan! Can’t you just let me tease this fool for a few seconds?” Bingying chuckled and slapped her partner’s hand away. Dusting off her blouse, the young maiden lightly tapped the side of the Shin. “This is your last mission with the Alliance. After which, you’ll be returning to Imperius Academy for your final year with the Himmel Empire. What are your plans?”
“Yeap. There’s only a year left in the contract before you’ll formally join the Lantis Republic. Honestly, if it were up to me, I’ll carry you straight to the archipelago right now. You’ve learnt everything that you possibly could in the Himmel Empire. Your relationships within High Society is also solid. There’s almost nothing left in the Empire for you to accomplish. If you return there, you’ll only be wasting that final year. If you wish for it, I could pull some strings to have you on a trip east tomorrow!”
“Sister Bingying, are you telling me to cut short my obligations with the Empire?”
“Not telling, advising.” The Pearl in the East tapped the forehead of the youth. “Ultimately, you’re the one that’s in charge of your destiny. I can’t force you to do anything against your will. However, I would like you to think long and hard about your current situation. You’re the Prince of Water! There’s so much more for you to accomplish in the Lantis Republic!”
“Sister Bingying… I…”
“Hush.” The beautiful maiden placed her delicate index finger on Shin’s lips, barring him from speaking another word. “Before you give me an answer, I want you to ask yourself these few questions. What ties you down to the Himmel Empire? Why are you reluctant to leave? Wouldn’t the Lantis Republic be a better choice for you? Ask yourself those questions, and at the end of the mission, we can talk. For now…”
Meijing Bingying looked up with an impish smile, prompting Shin to follow her gaze all the same. Behind them, Kanari, Isadore and the rest of the group had been gathered in one spot. Their faces were universally the same. All of them wore worried expressions as they eyed down the black-haired youth that had remained behind to stall the Black Masks. Sensing that it was her cue to leave, Bingying moved her index finger from Shin’s lips and flicked him on his nose.
“I’ll return you to your friends.”
“Thanks…” Shin scratched the back of his head and turned to the group. Emma had her cheeks inflated like a chipmunk, and her eyes had been reddened like a tomato. It was evident that the girl had been crying her heart out just moments ago. And it wasn’t just the saintly-like girl that was in the worst of state. Elrin, Ella and Shizen all hid sniffles while Isadore had furrowed brows and a frustrated grimace.
Only Kanari’s face was hidden as her head was bolted down and her hair covered her expression. For the first time, Shin didn’t know what to say to his friends. He had just placed them through a wealth of hurt and worry. It would be strange for him to just act as if nothing had happened. Taking shaky steps towards his friends, Shin forced down a mouthful of saliva, his mind browsing through infinite possible scenarios to open the conversation.
Alas, his preparations would all turn out to be absolutely useless. Not caring about the boy’s inner turmoil, Kanari charged forward and struck Shin with her entire body. It wasn’t a deadly strike that would damage Shin in any measure of the word, and neither was it a soft blow that he could simply brush off. Kanari had run straight into the young man’s embrace, enveloping her entire body with his.
With their distance being effectively zero, Shin could smell the soft fragrance of the ethereal beauty. Though they had been out the entire day and there wasn’t any opportunity for the maiden to take a shower, she still smelt of roses and daisies which made Shin question his own scent. After a brief second, Shin could feel something warm dripping in on his chest through his shirt. It was hard not to hear the soft hiccups when the two were this close together. Kanari’s hands crept up to Shin’s neck and tugged on it softly, pushing the young man’s head closer towards her hidden mouth. At that moment, a soft voice, or perhaps a faint plea, echoed itself into his left ear:
“Never… do that again.”
There was nothing that Shin could have done at this point. Placing his right hand over her back head and left on her silky soft back, Shin allowed Kanari to seek comfort in his embrace all while the rest of the team watched on, grinning from ear to ear throughout.