The White Knight Encampment. A place where the elites of the Alliance gathered to plan their siege against the Black Masks that had been cornered within the Crypts of the First Men. Hundreds of soldiers moved in unison as their drill master barked out commands while dozens of officers scrambled to ensure that everything was in order. It was a place where the best of the best congregated, focused on the task at hand. However, in the midst of all of the elites, there was one black-haired young man, walking about absent-minded, as if he wasn’t meant to be there in the first place.
‘Hah… What the hell am I doing?! I just ran away like that!!!’ Shin was still thinking about the moment he meant Kanari once more. After the kiss, Shin barely slept a wink as he was kept up all night thinking about the possible scenarios he would encounter. Was he to act like nothing had happened between them? What was the protocol for a situation such as this? What happens now that Kanari had shown her aggressiveness? Could they revert back to regular friends and share cordial conversations without bringing up that matter?
All of these questions ran rampant in Shin’s mind, and no matter how long or hard he thought about them, the youth couldn’t come up with an answer. Hence, when Shin saw Kanari again this morning, he instantly blanked out and made a beeline to the exit. Looking around, Shin found himself in unfamiliar territory as he just wandered about, with no destination in mind. He had just made an escape with an empty brain.
“Shin? Hey, isn’t that Shin?!”
Just as the youth was about to turn around back to his tent, a croaky voice sounded out from his back, prompting Shin to turn around. In just a split second, Shin’s dazed state turned into one of shock as he saw a pudgy being headed in his direction. Though he wasn’t as tall as Shin, the young man was still a little above the average height for someone his age and his rounded face that resembled a boar hadn’t changed one bit.
“Danroy? What are you doing here?” The sides of Shin’s mouth crept up at the pleasant surprise. With open arms, Shin approached Danroy and gave his classmate a firm hug. “I’d thought that you been dispatched to another region?”
“We were! However, there were some last minute hiccups, so we were moved to the east as well. Then this happened, and we were called here by our superiors. We just arrived early this morning.” Danroy explained. Ever since their teams were being commissioned by the Alliance to deal with the Black Masks, the two classmates had never met for months. “By the way, good job on finding the base. I heard that the Blade of Death is located there! If we get to nab him, we’ll unquestionably deal a heavy blow to the Black Masks.”
“Yeah…” Shin smiled and didn’t say a word. Not many knew of his personal history, and Shin wasn’t that interested in sharing it anyway.
“Well, I have to go now… Oh yeah! Do you want to meet the rest?” Recalling his task, Danroy slapped his forehead and made a hundred-eighty turn. “I’m bringing them the news of our dispatchment. I’m sure Suji and Natasha would be delighted to see you again!”
“I doubt that Suji would really be that happy, though…” Shin bitterly laughed. Though the two had reconciled long ago, they weren’t exactly the best of friends. Nonetheless, right now, Shin didn’t really want to return back to his team due to how awkward it would be. “But sure, I have some time to kill. I’ll follow you back.”
“Great! Come this way!”
Just like that, Danroy led his classmate straight to his tent. Over the years, the Star Class of the Golden Generation had produced world-class talents that would be certain to go on and dominate their field. Taking the seven freaks out of the equation, Danroy and Suji had both effortlessly made it into the Spirit Adept realm as well. Not only that, since they were from military families, they had participated in a handful of battles that their parents had led, bringing them ample of experience out on the field.
Their teammate, Natasha Aldana, wasn’t one to be overlooked either. In her five years in the academy, she had wrung all of the swordsmanship instructors clean and had become a legendary swordmaiden whose skill could only be matched by few in the academy. There was even a time where she volunteered to attend an exchange programme with the best sword school in the entire world, the Dalgeom Sect and dominated the majority of her competition. Although she wasn’t skilled enough to defeat the top one percent of legacy disciples there, Natasha still did enough to turn heads within the Kori Federation.
Finally, Danroy and Suji had recruited a handful of the top talents within the Star Class to complete their cell. Just like Shin’s group, theirs was exclusively comprised of Spirit Adepts only, making them the only two teams from Imperius Academy to have such a potent force. If the two groups teamed up during the assault into the Crypts of the First Men, there was no question that any Black Masks forces that would storm their way would be ruthlessly cut down.
“Guys! Look what I’ve brought! The Prince of Water!!!” Pulling Shin straight into the tent where his teammates were resting in. Almost instantaneously, all of the youngsters in the room stood up with opened jaws and widened mouths. Especially those that had little interactions with Shin back in the academy.
“S-Shin Iofiel!!!” One student exclaimed. “H-How, are you doing?”
“I’m fine, thank you very much.” Shin smiled back and extended a handshake. Just as how many treated him as a celebrity when they met him, there were hundreds of students within Imperius Academy that did the same. Since Shin had always hung out with Kanari, Elrin, Shizen and Isadore, many saw him as an untouchable figure. After the whole debacle at the Summit, Shin’s name began to spread far and wide, making him the most prominent youngster, even surpassing the Witch in the South, Kanari Saniela. Some worshipped him, many respected him. Thus, it wasn’t strange for some members of Danroy’s team to get tongue-tied when facing the celebrity that brought the world to heel.
“Shin! Long time no see!”
“Natasha! You look well!”
At that moment, a young maiden of medium build skipped forward with a brimming smile on her face. Other than his immediate clique, Shin was most friendly with Danroy and Natasha. They all recognised one another as superior talents and would often spar to gain some insights on how they should improve. In fact, Shin had once solicited Natasha’s help to train against a top swordsman in preparation for facing Junius.
Well, there was no need to elaborate on how well that went…
“Hehe! Thanks!” Natasha chuckled. Though, after a while, the young maiden’s expression changed as she leaned in and lowered her volume. “Hey, I heard that you’ve gone against the Blade of Death! How was he? Was he a good swordsman?”
“Yeah…” Shin remembered how Meijing Bingying, who was a master swordsmaiden in her own right, lost to the rapidly flowing blade of Junius’. Furthermore, Junius wasn’t even using his own Spirit and was just wielding an external weapon. One could only imagine how proficient he would become when he draws the Blade of Death. “He’s better than Sister Bingying.”
“Better than the Pearl in the East?! Hehe, now I’m really itching to meet him…” Being the battle junkie that she was, Natasha was always in search of a new challenge. Just thinking about being in a battle to the death with the infamous Vaishya sent shivers down her spine.
“Shin Iofiel.” While Natasha was caught in her fantasies, a towering figure stomped out from his bed and made his way over. Every step that he took was as massive as an elephant’s hoof, and the atmosphere around him instantly became heavy. Standing at over 1.9 metres tall, the sinewy man was easily the tallest person in the tent. His sculpted body and thick biceps that were strong enough to pulverise a rock with one flex were aspects that made him stand out from the crowd. However, even though he had all of those physical attributes that would dominate any other man, Shin had once bested him in battle, convincingly if one might add.
“Suji Lasgeor. Long time no see.”
“Yeah, long time…”
After that loss in their very first year at the academy, Suji has never once made a comeback to the year-end tournaments. Most of the time, he would be dispatched by his family to war against the Black Masks. In the words of his father: ‘Why join that juvenile competition when you get to temper yourself in the real world.’
Thus, the long-awaited rematch between the Black-Haired Tyrant and the Son of War never came for Imperius Academy. With Suji being Rank 33 and Shin being Rank 37, there was no doubt in everyone’s mind that a rematch would unquestionably become the most legendary bout in the academy’s history. Nonetheless, circumstances had kept them apart, and they had yet to even spar once since their battle in their freshmen year.
“Alright, the welcome is over! Come, let me tell you about our dispatchment.” Sensing the tense atmosphere, Danroy came between the two with a wide smile. “Due to the nature of the operation, we’re mostly sent to the edges of the Crypts to clean up any Spirit Beasts that may escape. The siege will begin at noon, and we’re to be in our positions at eleven sharp. Shin, what would your team be doing?”
“We’re assigned the same mission.” There wasn’t a need to lie. Eventually, the two teams would meet one another on the battlefield anyway. “We’re to thin out the numbers of the Black Masks.”
“That’s great!” Hearing the news, Danroy burst out in joy. His plump face lit up, and fats began to jiggle. “We should join forces! Show the White Knights what the Imperius Academy students are made off!”
“That’s a great idea!” Natasha added. After all, in a foreign land, it was gratifying to have some familiar companionship. “If we fight together, there’s no Black Mask that could possibly beat us in combat!!!”
Shin thought about it for a brief moment with his index finger rested firmly on his chin, before slowly moving his head up and down. “I agree. However, I can’t speak for the rest of my teammates. Though, I doubt that they would have a problem with us working together. After all, the more hands we have, the better our chance of leaving the battle uninjured.”
It wasn’t a question of whether they would win against the Black Masks or not. Shin was confident that the raid would prove successful given the amount of firepower the White Knights and the Alliance had brought to the table. However, in every battle, there was bound to be casualties and fatalities. With so many of his treasured friends and family participating in the raid, it seemed wise to bolster his own forces by merging with another unit.
“So it’s agreed! Haha, what a joyous day!” Danroy raised his hands in absolute euphoria. Not only did he run into an old friend, but they were finally able to fight alongside each other, something unthinkable during their first year. “When the mission starts, I’m sure that we’ll have a lot of fun.”
“That’s right.” Hearing the agreement, Suji let out a rare smile and raised his hand to meet Shin’s. “Let’s see who has the better team. Yours or mine.”
‘Hah… He’s still as competitive as ever.’ Shin sighed mentally and returned the gesture with his own handshake. Suji didn’t care about winning any money or material gains. What the muscular young man wanted the most was honour and vindication from being beaten once. When he was in this state, no matter how many Spirit Beasts the Black Masks sent his way, Suji would just mow them all down with his Purple Dragon Crescent Blade.
“Alright, then. We’ll meet on the battlefield.”