Taking off from the City Manager’s office, Shin and his group promptly returned to their remote inn, far from the commotion of the main streets. They wanted to have a little bit of peace and quiet instead of participating in the ruckus of Huuring City. And boy was it rowdy. The Moon Mercenaries were a middle-class troop that boasted five Rank 30 Spirit Adepts. Their names were prominent within the compounds of Huuring City and the fact that less than half of them survived the onslaught had caused major uproars within the taverns of the town.
Furthermore, news that a prodigious group of seven outsiders had extinguished the forest fire and defeated the Vaishya and his minions, spread in the form of word and song. Rumour has it that four of them were great beauties, each worthy to sit on the throne of an Empress, while the three boys were charming hunks that inspired a woman’s every fantasy. Everyone wanted to meet the seven that saved their town, and maybe try to get lucky with one of the foreigners. Alas, Shin and his group weren’t interested in merrymaking while on the job.
Kicking their feet back the seven youngsters gathered before a fireplace in their inn, warming their soles and massaging their thighs while sipping on hot chocolate and tea. The abode that they were staying in was quite small with few visitors even tracing the halls. Therefore, Shin and his friends could afford to be a little brazen as they lounged in the common area, talking about anything under the sun.
“That City Manager sure is rude.” Shizen threw his arms over his head and reprimanded that bulky man that they had just seen. “We saved his town, and he immediately treats us like the enemy? It really doesn’t pay to be a good person!”
“You can’t blame him. Everyone is uptight about the war, and trust isn’t something that’s easily given this far north.” The walking encyclopedia, Isadore, began to explain the culture of the area. “Huuring City is a few kilometres inland from the northern-eastern coast. Here, the lands are infertile, and the weather quite inhospitable for human civilisation. You know, with the frequent forest fires and the avalanche climate during winter. The only reason why Huuring City exists is to act as a warning bell for the Kori Federation, should the Lantis Republic wish to invade. Thus, it’s not uncommon for the mercenaries here to doubt the words of someone like us.”
“I see…” Shizen was wondering why the welcome that they got had been lacklustre compared to the other towns they visited. “Whatever, we’re not here to stay anyway. After we chase down the last trace of Junius, we’re going back to the Himmel Empire right?”
“That’s right. This mission is the last one. Once we’re done, the Alliance will send someone to pick us home.” Shin’s azure eyes glimmered under the orange light of the fireplace, as he replied an affirmative.
It all began just a few months ago. Shin and his clique were already Year Five students and had long obtained the necessary requirements to graduate. The lecturers had been sucked of all their knowledge, and half of the instructors in the academy had begun losing to the many from the ‘Golden Generation.’ Shin, Kanari, Isadore, Natasha and Suji had reigned supreme in the martial arts field. There was even a case where Shin and Isadore joined forces to defeat Mychael, the rat-faced bastard in open combat where spiritual abilities were banned.
Believe it or not, Shin’s compatriots fared even better. Elrin dominated the auxiliary department with her Rosary of Eternity while the twins beat several instructors in an archery competition. Shizen fared poorly when it came to grades, however, his control over the Adivinar Tree allowed him to retain his position among the top ten ranks.
Thus, with all these talents popping up left and right, a problem arose. How could the academy continue to teach the youths within the compounds of their walls? Studying more books or vigorously training them with physical exercises would only serve to add water into an overflowing bucket. There wasn’t much that Imperius Academy could continue to impart onto their ‘Golden Generation.’
With that, a suggestion was made to Principal Erudito from the Alliance. It didn’t make sense that with so many students dropping out of the military to serve in the war, the most talented students were banned from even touching on foreign soil, and were instead locked up in a cage to practice the same doctrines over and over. The Alliance suggested that Imperius Academy cease all curriculum for the Fifth and Sixth years so that they could participate in the war for half a year. They would form cells of five to ten members of their liking, and they would be issued missions accordingly to their skill level. The students would experience what it was like in the frontlines of a war, the academy would be rid of their lack of tutelage problem, and the Alliance would gain much-needed help from the various talents of the academy.
It was a win-win situation for all of them. As anticipated, the greats all gathered around, with Shin forming a team with his immediate clique, and Suji building a team with his dear friend Danroy as well as a plethora of talented individuals from the Star Class.
While the Year Five and Sixes were all assigned missions, only the two top teams, which were Shin’s and Suji’s, had the right to choose whichever assignment they wanted. Safety wasn’t that much of a concern since all of them had tremendous backings and powerful cultivators would protect them from the shadows, only intervening if their lives were in peril.
For Shin, that only meant one thing. He would continue to chase Junius down to fulfil the first of his goals, and he had taken any mission that had even an inkling of Junius’ name. And honestly, it wasn’t all that hard. The Black Masks may be elusive in nature, but there were many things that the Alliance could find out about them. For instance, there was an entire database of who had joined or could potentially join the Black Masks, and they were tracked worldwide. Aptly called the Blacklist, members of the Black Masks that have their names in the database were considered to be terrorists with a hefty bounty placed on all of their heads.
Junius was a significant name on the Blacklist. Although he was only twenty-four-years-old, he was already a Spirit Spectre and a major name within the syndicate. His faction consists of at least four Rank 60 Brahmins, and it was recently discovered that he played a large role in the tragedy of the Land of Dreams. Junius also has a hand in the developments of bases within the Kori Federation, and intelligence quotes him as one of the most influential Black Masks within the syndicate. Named with a reward of a hundred gold ingots on the Blacklist, there were countless of mercenaries, rogue militias, and Alliance members that were gunning for his head. And Shin’s group was one of them.
Chasing traces of Junius all over the Kori Federation, they had overcome dozens of perilous situations. Towering through over a thousand Spirit Beasts to get past a canyon. Storming a Black Mask base with only the seven of them. And bringing down three Vaishyas at once that had accidentally come across them during their travels. With each battle, the group had grown more and more powerful, and it showed with how easily they dispatched the Vaishya that attempted to burn down Huuring City.
Nonetheless, the constant travels had taken a little toll on their bodies. Yes, Shin was present to heal any wounds that they sustained, but with the mental fatigue mounting, what they needed was a month-long rest back home.
“Yippee!!! We finally don’t have to keep walking!” Shizen cheered.
“Do you really have to celebrate that much?” Ella mumbled. She quite enjoyed the adventures that they had embarked on, taking on Black Mask after Black Mask. Sightseeing gorgeous places that were only heard about in books. If possible, she wanted to prolong their expedition out of the Himmel Empire for just a little bit. “You do know that your final year at Imperius Academy would only be studying.”
“W-What?!” Shizen had two great fears in his life. Shin running out of his special water to give him, and well… Writing on a piece of paper for hours at a time. “Urgh… You study for me!”
“Hehehehe~” Emma grinned merrily. “Ella’s always so close to Shizen! I’m starting to get jealous!”
“Hey, Emma! What do you mean by that! Why would I care about this brat?!”
“Hahahaha!!!” The group laughed heartily, ignoring the warm gaze that the innkeeper and barmaid were shooting at them. They probably thought that this was the formation of a new mercenary troop and they were sharing their woes over the fire. Such a sight was common for a small tavern in Huuring City.
“There’s only one year left huh…” Isadore threw his head back and stared at the ceiling. They were tired of the constant strife and the number of battles that they had to endure, but for the most part, those battles would serve as happy memories for the future. However, in just a year, Shin would be departing for the Lantis Republic, where they won’t have any chance to make new memories.
“Don’t be that way.” Shin tapped his buddy on the shoulders. Over the years, in Shin’s heart, Isadore had grown from the annoying little brat that pesters him at any given moment, to a trusted comrade that he would trust his life with. “We still can meet each other when you visit the Republic. Furthermore, I won’t be dwelling on the archipelago for the entire time! If there’s a chance, I’ll take a mission where we get to meet one another!”
“Psshhh! Who wants to visit you? I have an information network to create!”
“You still haven’t given up on that dream?” Kanari interjected. Of the group, she was the one that was most familiar with Isadore’s family situation. It would be a shocker if the Himmel Empire’s Ancestor allowed his sole inheritor to lead some information network that has no hope of forming.
“Hmph! Just watch me!” Isadore furrowed his brows adorably, lowering his crystal-clear forehead. In the four years, the androgynous youth had turned into a gorgeous looking man. Shin may be the more famous one, but Isadore was the one that received the most love letters, from both females and males alike. Reminiscent of a silver-haired fabled elf, the group had teased him continuously for his looks that were no way inferior to that of Kanari’s.
“Hah… The Lantis Republic, huh?” Shin allowed his friends to banter on as he swirled his goblet around. He had reached Rank 37. He had evolved his first spiritual ability to match that of Lukman’s in the Summit. And now, he has created a devastating trump card in his fourth spiritual ability which had solved his firepower issue. Honestly, at this point, he had no clue on how else he could grow. While the Lantis Republic may have the answers, Shin wasn’t really looking forward to his five-year stay there.
“Let’s not look that far into the future just yet.” Kanari emptied her goblet in one swoop, revealing her enticing supple neck. Now that she had four additional years in the bag, the girl grew from a young girl to a drop-dead gorgeous beauty. If she could turn head four years ago when she was just sixteen, at twenty, their heads would spin out of their spines and follow the black-haired Adonis wherever she might go.
While it was a blessing to possess such great beauty within the Capital, outside, it was just a magnet for crass drunkards and conceited noblemen or merchants. They all thought that they could possess that beauty for themselves and had attempted to woo Kanari over, regardless if it were legal or not. Shin couldn’t count the number of times he had to fight random men because they wanted a piece of Kanari.
“We should take things one step at a time. For now, the most pressing issue is to deal with Junius. I’ve arranged for that lady that we’ve just saved, Natalie from the Moon Mercenaries, to meet us tomorrow. She says that she has the perfect guide to lead us to the Crypt of the First Men.”
“Are you sure that Junius would build a base in somewhere that famous?” Shin asked. The Crypt of the First Men was once the burial chambers for the first major civilisation that the world had. After millions of years of constant strife, three Spirit Saints gathered the surviving population of mankind and created one central government under their rule. They had even jointly broken through the limits of a human and became Spirit Immortals together.
Though the Crypts of the First Men had long become rubble and their tales had long turned into myths, there were still various archaeologists that ventured there to study the ancient civilisation, and that location was still visited by hardcore tourists that didn’t mind the arduous journey.
“The intelligence said that there were sightings of Black Masks under Junius’ control, though the Alliance hasn’t given us the green light to go ahead yet.”
“I see. Well, let’s just hope that it’s not a dead end like the rest of the leads were.” Shin helped Kanari refill her goblet while the group waited for the arrival of their new guide.