The Himmel Empire. Imperius Academy. Two Years Ago.
Something about the raven’s chilling call unsettled Meijing Bingying to the core. It was late into the afternoon, and the gorgeous golden sun had started its descent into the abyss, giving rise to the cold winds that were common during autumn. Not a stranger to the cold, Meijing Bingying denied her Xunyu Huanyuan’s suggestion to put on a thick overcoat. Her expression remained the same as she watched the sealed doors religiously as if she were a nun praying at an altar. The handsome young man smiled and took a seat next to his childhood friend, offering some company for the perturbed maiden.
“Do you think that he’ll succeed?”
“I don’t know,” Bingying replied. “We took every precaution that we possibly could. Saint Longyu Tian had even personally visited Shin twice to confirm his status. We double-checked, triple-checked, quadruple-checked that the numbers add up. There’s a Divine Healer by his side, constantly monitoring him and joint resources from the Himmel Empire and the Lantis Republic had been poured into his cultivation. Everything should be set up for him to succeed.”
“But it’s still a risk.” Huanyuan didn’t want to be the guy that pours cold water, but there was no helping it. What Shin was attempting has been done only a handful of times before. The number of failures far exceeded the number of successes. “Assimilating with a shard from a Tier 9 Azure Dragon’s claws and using it as a fragment to create his own spiritual ability. Not even Spirit Saints would have the balls to play with that idea, and Shin wants to learn it at Rank 30? Only those with the Mark of the Celestial Dragon would have that kind of courage.”
Xunyu Huanyuan’s tone hid a little mockery, but it also contained a considerable amount of respect. Shin was a genius, no one could dispute that. His advancements in cultivation were second only to Kanari. After being exposed to Lukman’s control over sand, Shin had created a plethora of his own techniques, some surpassing the Prince of Sand’s powers. His martial arts were among the top in his cohort, and his comprehension ability would trump over anyone.
Yet, Shin wasn’t satisfied. Even if he progressed at his standard rate, Shin would undoubtedly become one of the top cultivators in the entire world. However, instead of being the boring bookworm that followed every instruction to a tee, Shin opted to take a risk that many viewed as entirely unnecessary.
Shin once picked up a charred thorn from the Imperius Academy’s vault as his reward for reaching the top three in his cohort. During a session of self-cultivation, Shin was sunk into the memory of the thorn and witnessed a legendary battle between two ancient beasts. One was a flying dragon that could summon torrential rain with a single roar. The other was a God of the Inferos, bringing hell onto the earth. When the two beasts collided, the heavens shook while the ground roared.
When Shin approached the Spirit Adept realm, it became increasingly apparent that he lacked enough firepower to brute force his way through battles. Shin’s first spiritual ability gave him the versatility and capabilities to adapt to any situation. Shin’s second spiritual ability allowed him to sustain himself in prolonged battles while his third spiritual ability gave him the power to stand toe-to-toe with any human foe. However, Shin lacked a crucial piece of the puzzle. An ultimate ability that would sweep anything that stood in his way.
So, Shin decided that he had to create an ability, similar to the one he witnessed in the memory of the charred thorn. To do that, he needed the assistance of a creature that was similar to the flying dragon in the memory. Luckily, there was one residing as a Guardian Beast within the Lantis Republic. It wasn’t easy, but Saint Longyu Tian managed to procure a shard from the Azure Dragon’s claws and gifted it to Shin for assimilation.
“If Shin’s wants to assimilate with the Azure Dragon’s shard, who are we to stop it?” Meijing Bingying sighed. Her two arms hugged her knees closer to her chest, despondent that there was nothing that she could do to assist Shin.
Bingying was assigned to Shin on the whims of the Saint of Time. Initially, she didn’t look favourably on the youth and only planned to use him as a tool to strengthen the Meijing Clan’s position in the Republic. However, after spending some time mentoring the young man, Bingying cringed at her earlier folly. Shin was a hardworking young man whose eyes never faltered away from self-betterment. Shin was far superior compared to the jester Jingyu Taiyi or herself, making her question her position as someone who had possessed the Mark of the Celestial Dragon.
Bingying’s reluctance soon turned into a willingness to help Shin succeed in every endeavour that he pursued.
And yet, Bingying was hopeless to help Shin.
“We can only sit here and pray for the best.” A gloomy cloud escaped her petite mouth. She looked up and saw many of Shin’s closest friends in a similar state. The orphans had all gathered and sat alongside Shin’s clique. Some were grasping onto one another’s hands, hoping for the best and not the worst to happen.
“We can only believe in him…”
Minutes turned into hours. Shin had been attempting his breakthrough to the Spirit Adept realm since first light, and it was almost time for the moon to rise. Inside, Lady Seph, Principal Erudito and Madam Warulee were watching his every movement, careful to halt the process if things were to go awry.
All of a sudden, before the night finally fell, a sharp, resonant cry, one highly resembling that of a siren’s wail, broke the peace of the evening and pushed the spectators off their butts.
“What’s that sound?!” Bingying cried. Shin was in the middle of the most crucial period of his life. He was vulnerable and weak. There mustn’t be any outside distractions that could potentially disrupt his peace and Bingying would curb anyone or anything that dared to approach Shin. However…
“It’s coming from the inside of the chambers!” Her partner quickly answered, his fingers pointed straight at the sealed door where Shin was resting.
“Did he succeed?” Bingying’s lips curved upwards. They had been waiting for hours now, skipping two meals in the process. Has their patience finally paid off?
Yes… Yes, it did.
The roof of the cultivation chambers broke apart instantly. Blinding white light burnt the eyes of those nearby, dropping their bodies like flies. Pieces of enhanced stone rained down from the heavens while a dense smoke cloud bellowed out.
“What’s going on?!” Meijing Bingying cried out. The explosion was one of the likes that she had never witnessed before. Peering into the broken down chambers, Bingying saw Shin lying flat on the ground, his veins popping and his complexion purple. Lady Seph was barking out orders while desperately casting her best healing abilities to bring Shin back from the brink of self-destruction. Madam Warulee was aiding the angered Divine Healer with everything that she had while Principal Erudito, whose bronzed face was covered with dark soot and smoke, was staring blankly to the north.
And who could blame him? When Meijing Bingying saw the aftermath of the explosion, she dropped her jaws as all of her emotions ran wild.
The Imperius Academy cultivation chambers were located on a remote part of Mount Tsucai and part of the mountain range that defined the illustrious institution. Each peak was a symbol of pride for the academy, each one serving their own unique functions. They were all renowned worldwide. And now…
One of them had a wide gaping hole through it.
“You’re going to ignite the shard?!” Kanari immediately cried out. Her firm Kumiho claws grabbed onto Shin’s wrists, not letting go for even the slightest of resistance. “Don’t you remember what happened the last time you ignited it? You were nearly crippled! You can’t risk it anymore!”
“I’m well aware, but I still have to do it.” Shin raised up his hands from Danroy’s bare chest, revealing a completely intact young man with not a scar in sight. His quick thinking and exceptional healing ability had brought the three wounded youngsters out of the brink, and they just needed some time to recuperate their strength. Natasha was barely coming to while Elrin and Danroy were perhaps in the weakest moments of their lives. If they sustained yet another injury, the Grim Reaper himself would personally pay a visit and claim their lives.
“We have to destroy the Minotaur, Junius’ Sword Partner, Junius himself and the barrier he created just to get to the Paradise Heart. Do you honestly think that we could do all of that without incurred some casualties?” Shin posed the question.
All of the young heroes dropped their heads and scratched their chins. From what they had seen, Junius wasn’t a mere Vaishya. Heck, not even Rank 50 Spirit Lords had that kind of explosive powers. Using brute force wasn’t the way to go, especially since three of their comrades had already been taken out.
Shin knew that his friends were going to protest, but his mind was already made up. There was only one method for them to escape from the chambers, and that was for Shin to risk his life. No matter how one puts it, the primary reason for their predicament was Junius’ fascination with Shin.
“I’m going to ignite the shard. Its raw power should be sufficient to take down the barrier and the Paradise Heart in one strike.”
“Shin! It’s too-!”
“I KNOW!!!” Shin screamed, silencing Kanari’s protest. From the side, Kanari could see Shin’s fingers trembling. The Black-Haired Tyrant wasn’t immune to fear. He knew the drawbacks of the shard more clearly than anyone on the face of the earth. He was afraid. Afraid that his entire cultivation would be broken down into pieces if he ignited the shard. However, there was one thing he feared more than destroying his own body. The thing he feared the most… Was losing someone just like he lost Ariel.
“Cover me.” There was no need for continuous banter. The more they hesitated, the more time Junius had to regroup and figure out his next course of action. Shin had to act now.
Shin’s right hand covered his left as if he were holding on to the most precious jewel the world has ever seen. All of his remaining mana flowed out like an open tap and climbed its way through Shin’s veins and into his two covered palms. His azure eyes started to shine like an aquamarine gem on a beautiful night, and the water elements surrounding him were sucked into the cracks of his fingers as if they were being pulled into a black hole.
Kanari wanted to stop Shin, but Isadore’s outreached hand halted her advance. Looking over her shoulders, she could see trickling tears flowing down Isadore’s eyes as he bit down hard on his bottom lip.
“Shin’s right… That’s the only option we have.”
“If you really care for him,” Isadore pushed the maiden further back and assumed a combat position facing the throne and the Paradise Heart. “Cover for him and follow up with Lunar Beam to finish the job.”
The familiar siren’s call echoed out through the chambers. Stones on the floor started to levitate, and the moisture dipped rapidly. The healing mist that Shin had cast faded and in its place, a blinding light which screamed out danger. Junius, who had been waiting patiently for his targets to leave the mist, stood rooted like a tree, unsure of what was currently happening. In Shin’s hands, a light that wasn’t inferior to the full blast of the sun beamed out, ready to unleash hell on anything that stood in its way.
Kanari shook her head once and steeled her mind. Leaping behind Shin, Kanari created an illusion of a celestial moon with countless stars illuminating its grandeur. The illusion mesmerised but more importantly, confused. Junius was unable to pinpoint the right place to strike while Shin’s attack continued to charge up.
And then, it happened…
Opening his eyes, Shin raised up his right hand, revealing a thin white shard. It was barely the size of a gold ingot. Small and fragile, the shard looked like a fractured dragon’s scale that couldn’t harm a single soul. However, hidden within the petite body of the shard, there was an unfathomable amount of mana, one of the likes that could never be seen in a Spirit Adept.
Shin felt his arms sinking. The shard was more massive than anything he had ever carried, and the skin on his palms was starting to burn. His mana circuits were on the brink of eruption due to the pressure being weighed in on them and that in turn caused Shin’s body to scream out in agony. Shin was tempted to release the spiritual ability, never to cast it due to the pain that pulsated throughout his soul. However, he couldn’t do that when all of his comrade’s lives depended on that one strike. And so, he said the one word that he dreaded the most now.
The world of darkness, the Chambers of the Paradise Heart, that controlled the Payirci… Was now consumed with light.