The Kori Federation. The Estrella Region. Deep under the Crypts of the First Men.
A day has passed since Shin had encountered the forces of Junius and the Black Masks. The fully illuminated moon descended down from the heavens, bringing forth an orangey glow from the horizon. Morning birds awakened from their slumber and chirped like alarm clocks to alert the residents of the world about the new dawn while the chilling cold of the night was replaced by a soft ray of sunshine.
Though, not everyone was capable of feeling the glorious start of the new day. Buried deep within the Crypts of the First Men, dozens of shadowy figures scrambled about, hoping to grab as many documents that they could lay their hands on. With the base exposed, there was no need to stay at risk anymore. Ordered by their higher-ups to burn and dispose of any sensitive information in the base, the Black Masks were sent into immediate disarray. Vaishyas were screaming at Shudras and Shudras were beating up Dalits for being slow to act. It was a vicious cycle of violence and terror.
Amidst all the chaos, there was one broad-shouldered young man seated at the centre of the entire base. He placed both his hands into a prayer atop his knees as he watched the violence unfold. Downtrodden and broken, the young man sighed endlessly and dropped his head each time a new conflict arises.
“A penny for your thoughts?” While Junius was wallowing in grief, a monotone voice sounded out from his side. From the corner of his eyes, Junius could spot a two-metre tall giant of a man, who still boasted spectacular proportions for his height, amble straight in his direction.
“Senior Ao… I’ve failed the organisation… I failed the Allfather…” Junius continued to beat himself up while he watched the base get turned into a wasteland. “If I had heeded your advice… If I had given up on Shin… This base wouldn’t have been compromised. I wouldn’t have to force you to act, and we wouldn’t have to give up everything that we had built here over the past few months.”
“Well, it’s great that you understand that.” The World Serpent that served under the Allfather’s banner, Ao, sat right next to Junius, taking one more sip from his wine gourd. “I told you that you should have given up on your younger brother and you went against my orders. No, you went against the Allfather’s orders. That’s a crime punishable by death.”
“I know… And I accept whatever punishment the Allfather would bestow onto me.” Junius wasn’t afraid of the heinous deeds that the Allfather might put him through. Ever since he joined the Black Mask syndicate, the Allfather had been nothing but benevolent to him and the remnant members of the Awter Clan. They were given luxurious accommodations, protection from anyone that wished to hunt them down and even resources to further their cultivations. Yet, Junius had let the Allfather down by pursuing Shin, instead of eradicating every single soul that tread in his path.
“Despite my misgivings, I hope that you’ll spare the members from my family. They’re wholly innocent in this affair.” Junius begged. In his mind, he was already a dead man walking. He failed such an important task that was handed to him by the Allfather himself. It would be strange if he were let off leniently.
“You’re really a family-oriented man.” The World Serpent laughed, after which he chugged down all of the remaining wine in his gourd. “But you don’t have to worry. You have a chance to redeem yourself in the Allfather’s eyes.”
“What do you mean?”
The sides of Ao’s lips crept up sinisterly. The World Serpent threw the wine gourd straight onto the floor sending shards of ceramic flying all about. Bending his index finger down to the earth, the blue-haired man explained: “We release the thing hiding under here. Then, we massacre any White Knights that dare to enter.”
“We can’t do that!!!” Stunned by the Tier 9 Spirit Beast’s suggestion, Junius jumped. “We can only do that when Phase Four formally starts! We can’t just arbitrarily decide to release the artefact without the Allfather’s permission!!!”
Being an executive that knew of all the plans that the Black Masks were about to take, Junius understood how important it was to keep the artefact hidden beneath the Crypt of the First Men a secret for as long as they possibly could. Junius couldn’t just use it because he was cornered like a rat and if it were destroyed before Phase Four begins, how could he ever face the Allfather again?
“Don’t you think that it’s the perfect scenario?” The World Serpent didn’t care about going over the Allfather’s orders. “We have never tested it before and allowing those White Knights to barge into it while we stand guard is the perfect plan to test its effectiveness!!! Furthermore, the Estrella Region isn’t really that densely populated, so even if we release the artefact a little ahead of schedule, it wouldn’t bother the Allfather that much!”
“You want to use it as a test dummy for the Grand Scheme?! Wouldn’t exposing the artefact at this stage cause more harm than good?!” Junius continued to counter Ao’s argument.
“You really are a worrywart! Fine, let’s go consult the Allfather then! There’s an orb in the adjacent room, right? If we get his permission, I’m immediately releasing the artefact!”
“Wait! Even if we did release the artefact! We don’t have enough Spirit Beasts to populate it! I’ve sent half our forces away! There’s not enough firepower to deal with the hundreds of White Knights outside!!!”
“Have you forgotten what I am?” The handsome man scoffed, forcing Junius to swallow a mouthful of saliva. “I’m the World Serpent! All I need to do is to enter the oceans for a few hours, and I can easily gather a few thousand Spirit Beasts! I can march them all from the coast and populate the entire artefact!”
“Senior Ao…” Junius wanted to stop the World Serpent from continuing with this desperate plan, but ultimately, a Nine-Coloured Noble Beast far surpassed Junius’ rank. If Ao wished to continue down this path, Junius could only watch it unfold from afar.
“If you’re doing this to help me, I don’t need it. I understand that I had fucked up, and I will accept all the responsibility. You don’t have to mitigate the damage for me.” It wasn’t the first day that Junius had interacted with the World Serpent. He knew that Ao wasn’t the type to do excessive deeds for the sake of others. Especially for the sake of another human. The World Serpent loved to observe interactions between people, but that was just to sate his curiosity.
“Well, I’m not only doing this to help you. I’m doing it because I’m genuinely interested.” Ao admitted his biases. “That artefact is a relic from the age of Spirit Immortal Dream. No one has ever seen it in action and many doubt the potency of its power. Though the Allfather is adamant of its capabilities, I can’t help but feel sceptical. Whether Phase Four succeeds is based on those artefacts, so wouldn’t it be natural for us to test it out?”
“I guess so…”
“Don’t sweat it!” The World Serpent slapped Junius’ back to encourage him. “Also… Who knows? Perhaps in the mayhem, a certain black-haired youth would get separated from his protectors, and a certain viridian-haired man would get the opportunity to confront him again.”
With that one sentence, Junius immediately threw away all his earlier worries and fears. If he could get one step closer to regaining Shin back for the Awter Clan, Junius would do anything that he possibly could. Finally acquiescing, Junius stood up from his brooding position and walked over the next room with Ao following close behind.
“Alright… I’ll set up the orb…”
Just like the Black Masks, the members from the Alliance were all at the tip of their form as they prepared to launch their deadly operation. The White Knight Commander had ordered all of her forces to ready their positions once dawn arrived. Reinforcements from the Alliance came in by the hundreds every hour as every available personnel near the Estrella Region were called in to assist in the assault.
However, even though the encampment was as hectic as could be, the seven young heroes had next to nothing to do. Oddly enough, the busiest person among the group was the unsuspecting Latina, who had served as an advisory guide on where the Black Masks might make their escape. It was strange to watch a young thirteen-year-old guide Rank 50 Spirit Lords as if she were their superior, but with the guided assistance of Shin and Natalie, Latina was performing exceptionally well.
“Brother Shin, there’s another forested path into the Ancient Graveyard over there. I’m not sure if that’s a good enough escape route.” Looking at the map from a macro perspective, Latina pointed out one final path that the Black Masks may use.
“Hmmm? Ah, right!” Shin, who had been dazed for a significant portion of the briefing, suddenly jerked himself into focus and followed Latina’s delicate fingers once more. “All potential paths have to be marked. If it’s forested, that means that the Black Mask might use it even more since they get to travel under cover of the canopies. Good job, Latina.”
“Hehe, thanks!” The young girl sweetly smiled. Finally, she was able to prove herself useful to her benefactor!
“Mister Shin. This information is absolutely essential for the operation. Thank you for taking the time to point the paths out for us.” The White Knight Commander reviewed the marked positions on the map and instantly issued out a word of praise.
“You shouldn’t be thanking me. Latina is the one that’s helping you.”
“Of course. Thank you, Miss Latina. Because of your contributions, we would get to minimise the damage that our forces might incur. How could we ever repay you?” The commander bowed down to the young girl, forcing Latina to turn flustered as she waved her hands up high in the air.
“N-No! It’s my pleasure to be of assistance to the White Knights!”
“Don’t worry. I’m sure the Alliance would be happy to compensate for the services of this young and talented girl, right?” Shin laughed and grabbed hold of Latina’s shoulders. “She’s currently looking for a good mentor that could aid her in her cultivation. Though she had a slow start, Latina has been on the field ever since she was nine. Not only is she a good hunter, but she’s also a brilliant young girl. I’m sure that there tonnes of schools that would love to admit her.”
Hearing Shin’s words of praise, Latina and Natalie all widened their eyes. Latina in shock and Natalie in comprehension. Shin was trying to advocate for Latina to join a top cultivation school instead of wasting her life in a crass and hopeless town such as Huuring City. The middle-aged mentor of Latina’s had to bite her lower lip to prevent herself from screaming out in joy and immediately grabbed the girl’s head and forced it downwards.
“Yes! Latina is a great talent! She’s really good at everything! She’s obedient, she’s smart and most importantly of all, she’s willing to work hard! I’m sure that Latina would be a great fit in whichever organisation she goes to!” Natalie continued to sell the strong points of her protege, in hopes of persuading the White Knight before her.
“Hmmm… I can see that… Alright! I’ll write a letter of recommendation to the Alliance! I’m sure that the Kori Federation would make sure that a talent such as Miss Latina wouldn’t be squandered!”
“Thank you!!! Thank you so much, senior!!!” Natalie almost burst out in joy when she heard the White Knight Commander give her word. Her immediate concern was Latina’s future, and if she managed to land a position in any of the top Master Sects, Natalie would be able to die a happy mentor.
“No worries. Okay, I must be going now. Mister Shin, I’ll see you in the operation later?”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Shin laughed and moved to aside, allowing the White Knights to leave the tent and head back to their duties. A battle was just about to unfold, it wasn’t appropriate for them to spend too much time in one location. Fortunately, for Shin and the rest, they could afford that luxury.
“Ah, Senior Natalie. I hope you didn’t mind me recommending Latina without consulting you. It just seemed like the perfect opportunity for her to gain a powerful backer.”
“How could I blame you?!” Natalie waved her arms and increased her pitch. “I’m more delighted than anything! How could we ever repay you for what you’ve done for us?”
“There’s no need for that. Latina’s assistance was essential for us.” The young man moved forward and pet Latina’s brown hair. “I’m just fulfilling my end of the bargain. Once this whole battle ends, I’ll send someone to look for your father. Just treat this favour as a little bit of interest.”
“Thank you, Brother Shin!!!” Latina chuckled and jumped into Shin’s arms.
“No worries. For now, all you two have to do is rest in the encampment and wait for the battle to blow over. As much as I would love to return you to Huuring City right this instant, it’s too dangerous to move outside now. If there are any issues with the accommodations, you let us know. We’ll rectify it.” Shin removed the koala bear that was sticking to his chest and sat her down back on her bed. However, just before the boy could leave to adhere to his duties, three figures sauntered into the canvas, stunning Shin in his place.
The two youths eyes met for the first time since they parted yesterday. Both of their minds instantly wandered to the glorious patch of the night sky as they shared a special moment. Kanari looked straight at the lips of the young man while Shin watched the blushing face of the beautiful maiden. Though they didn’t plan for it, the atmosphere immediately turned pinkish to the onlookers as even a middle-aged woman such as Natalie began to feel the strains of heartburn.
“Excuse me.” Coming to his senses, Shin coughed twice and walked out of the tent with half his face covered. How should he react? Shin really had no clue. Hence, even if it meant that he would avoid Kanari for the rest of the day until he figured it out, Shin would undoubtedly do so.
“Shin, hey, Shin!” Ella called out to her brother, but Shin thoroughly ignored her. Bolting away from the tent faster than a speeding arrow, Shin ran to god knows where leaving the females to talk within the abode.
“Didn’t you say that you chickened out and didn’t confess? Why is he acting so strange?” Emma turned to Kanari with a raised eyebrow. When the pure maiden returned last night, she had a long talk with her female friends, in which she lied out of her teeth. Why? Because of that impish white-haired brat that had a mouth looser than a granny’s panties.
“Well… Something did happen…” Unable to hide it anymore, Kanari meekly dropped her face and turned around, drawing all sorts of suspicion from the gang.
“Sorry, what was that?” Since Kanari muffled her words, Emma had to inch closer to her mouth.
“WE KISSED ALRIGHT!” Kanari burst out and covered her face with her palms. “Stop making me repeat it!”
“You guys what?!” Emma and Ella screamed out. Half in shock and half in joy. Even Natalie and Latine couldn’t hide their stunned faces. “You kissed?! Why did you lie, then?!”
“Cause it’s so embarrassing…” Kanari continued to hide her reddened face. As Natalie watched the gorgeous black-haired beauty, who was also known as the Witch in the South, the middle-aged mercenary felt as if she was swindled her entire life. There was no way that this adorable creature was the same person that terrorised dozens of foes with her dominant viciousness.
Nevertheless, the twins weren’t done with their questioning. Creeping in closer with the most disgusting grins on their faces, the two identical faces showed their teeth like wolves going in for the kill.
“So you guys kissed huh… Tell us more about it…”
At that moment, Kanari regretted everything and questioned all of her life choices. As it turned out, telling the truth to the twins were as dangerous as telling it to that nasty imp that had terrorised her all her life…