The Land Of Dreams. The Alliance Headquarters.
Four years have passed since the terrible tragedy had fallen upon the Land of Dreams. During that time, thousands of brave men and women were tasked with the job of cleaning up the blood-filled streets that were littered with headless bodies and broken limbs. The stench of death and gore lingered on their clothes for days while the mental trauma they sustained from joining the clean-up crew lasted for years and will last for the rest of their lives. It was an abominable job. Playing the role of an undertaker for a city that was massacred. However, that was precisely what the newly-formed Alliance needed. A lease of new life built on the foundations of the horrendous tragedy that shook the world.
The once broken down streets of the Land of Dreams were now replaced with reinforced buildings, some placed together with mana-infused concrete and steel. Though it wasn’t as populated as it was before, the Land of Dreams was now home to ten thousand Alliance members, each one more important than the other.
Divine Healer Raphael, who had temporarily stepped down as the Healer Associations’ top dog to serve as the Alliance Head, moved his entire residence into the newly built Alliance Headquarters. His move sparked new life in the Alliance, and it showed that the union of the three superpowers wasn’t built on a house of cards.
Usually, Raphael would get up every morning at the same exact time and handle his administrative duties for ten hours straight. However, in recent days, his resting schedule had gone completely haywire, and he barely slept a wink. As a Divine Healer, Raphael was capable of treating himself to look as refreshed as he always was, and he could handle the physical burdens that he placed on himself. Mentally, well, that was a different story.
Rubbing his creased forehead, Raphael looked into the five Cikai Mirrors placed before him with substantial trepidation. Not because the Alliance Head was fearful of the five figures being displayed on the mirrors, but because he wasn’t sure how he was going to deliver the news. “Thank you all for agreeing to meet on such short notice. As you know, we have been swamped over here, and your prompt assistance is much appreciated.”
“No, we should be the ones apologising. Leaving all of the hard work to you.” Prince Koshaku replied, his eyes filled with warm empathy. Raphael wasn’t keen on taking the job, but since he was the most neutral and the most respected representative among all of the candidates, the Divine Healer was pushed into the position.
“Being the Alliance Head is tough, and you have done it exceptionally well.” Venus, the Kori Federation’s Deputy Prime Minister, nodded in agreement. “We cannot thank you enough for your service during this darkest of times.”
“Thank you.” Raphael wasn’t really moved by the compliments. He had walked a billion kilometres and read a billion more books. Trying to butter up to him wasn’t going to work. Furthermore, there was a more pressing matter to attend to.
“I don’t want to waste any of your precious time, so I’ll just jump straight into it.” Raphael took a deep breath before holding up the scroll that he prepared. “After the first Payirci had appeared in the Estrella Region, dozens more have started to emerge. Everywhere from the Sahara Desert, to the Southern Glaciers. From the Lantis Seas to the Himmel Peaks. All in all, we have confirmed a total of ninety-seven Payircis with many more potential locations being marked. Some emerged in locations without human civilisations while others burst forth in the heart of major towns.”
Pandemonium. That was what Junius had warned Shin of. Now that the first Payirci had been revealed, the Black Masks no longer had the need to hide the next phase of the plan. Throughout the years, the missions that the Black Masks had to build new bases inside of the three superpowers were actually a front to transfer Payircis deep underground and transfer Spirit Beasts into it to make endless amounts of Umbras.
“How many civilians were affected?” Zhangyu Yaoguai folded his arms and asked the crucial question. The appearance of the Payircis didn’t go well for any of the three superpowers. Even the Lantis Republic, who had the least amount of land and were mostly well-protected by the targeted attacks of the Black Masks, had hundreds of their villages displaced.
Raphael’s face tightened. It was the one statistic that he didn’t want to bring up. Nonetheless, he was the Alliance Head, and it was his responsibility to report such matters. “We estimate that five thousand populated areas have been compromised. The number of refugees that would have to move immediately is upwards of ten million. Injuries are numbered in the millions and…” Raphael blinked and took a sip of his water. “There are five hundred thousand confirmed deaths. The number is still rising.”
“I see…” Zhangyu Yaoguai dropped his two arms, his lips quivering like a leaf. He had anticipated a high toll, but not in those numbers. Five hundred thousand… That was the highest death tally of any war in recent memory.
“The deaths were mostly caused by the Umbras that ran out into the civilian population. Another significant reason was how unprepared we were. In the mayhem, people fought with each other to run away from the Payirci, in hopes of reaching safer shores. Before we could reach out to help them, they had mostly perished…” Raphael continued to read out from the report, his eyes hiding a murderous intent that went against all of his ethics as a healer.
“Don’t beat yourself up, Raphael.” Deputy Prime Minister Venus said. “No one could have anticipated that the Black Masks would have technologies such as the Payirci at their disposal. The Allfather was just too many steps ahead of us.”
“I know… And that’s why he has to be stopped!” Raphael crumpled the scroll and threw it away. “Also, I had enough of this political bullshit! We call ourselves an Alliance, and yet, none of you are fully committed to the cause!” The Alliance Head turned the discussion towards the representatives of the three superpowers. It was utterly unlike the calm and composed red-haired man to burst out in an uproar, but Raphael could no longer hold back his anger. His anger towards the Black Masks, his anger towards his own incompetence and… His anger towards the other five entities in the Alliance.
“Those five hundred thousand are citizens of YOUR countries! Their blood flows on YOUR land! We can’t be holding back and squabbling between us while our opponent is united and this powerful! We have been looking at the Black Masks as a bug that needs to be crushed, but history has shown us time and time again that the Allfather is a threat EQUAL to us!!!” The Divine Healer slammed his palms on the ebony desk that he had, creating a thunderous echo. “We need to stop holding back! Even now, all of you are hiding in the comfort of your homes while we’re moving from place to place, desperately praying for one more soul to be saved!”
“I’m not done!” The Alliance Head still had many grievances in his heart. Perhaps it was due to his love of life. A lifetime healer, Raphael knew how heavy the weight of life was. Now, five hundred thousand souls had been reaped. There was no way that he could stand it lying down. “We have been trumped by the Payircis this time and who knows? Next time the Black Masks might come up with a new contraption that would stun us all, killing even more lives! If we want to stop this from happening anymore, all of us have to invest everything that we have! All the armies, navies, weaponry and armadas!”
“…” The five representatives went silent. It wasn’t just the three superpowers that were at fault. The Blacksmith’s League continued to prioritise profit while the Mercenary Guild never sent out their best men for any missions, fearing that they would lose them all.
“I understand…” Zhanyu Yaoguai was the first to cave in. The Lantis Republic was perhaps the worst corner of the Alliance. They only provided a few thousand men and limited supplies compared to the Himmel Empire or the Kori Federation, and they refused to use their navy soldiers as a force. They had always viewed the Black Masks as a problem that the inhabitants of the Terre Continent had to deal with and that they could turtle up in their Lantis Archipelago with little to no repercussions. However, the Allfather saw to that when he brought up dozens of Payircis in their land.
“I will talk to the High Council. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure that their answer is satisfactory.” The Zhangyu Clan head cancelled the transmission, seemingly to attend to the most pressing matter at hand.
“The Master Sects will respond to your plea, Raphael.” Deputy Prime Minister Venus did the same.
Prince Koshaku sighed as well. “The Emperor and the Imperial Courts will make a decision today. I’m sorry about the hurt we’ve caused.”
“We will assist you with anything that you need, Alliance Head” Guild Master Xerxes replied.
“And so will we,” said President Ingram, his greedy eyes replaced with a ferocious glint. “The Blacksmith’s League will increase our production tenfold to cater to the new entrants of the Alliance Military.”
As the transmissions on the Cikai Mirror ceased, Raphael was left all alone in his lofty chambers. Outside, hundreds of men and women were running about like frightened bunnies, desperately trying to complete their tasks. Every single minute, there was a new report being flown in, and every single hour there was a new request for reinforcements. The Alliance didn’t have that many hands or resources to deal with them all. Fortunately, Raphael has managed to wake up his fellow partners, and they were now scrambling to add more manpower. However, that didn’t solve the most basic question that everyone had…
‘Allfather… Just what the hell are you?’
There was hardly any light under Shin’s closed eyelids. It wasn’t cold, but neither was it extremely warm or snug. The first sense that Shin regained was his hearing. There was a low buzzing noise mixed with the sweet chirps of sunshine birds. Am I dreaming? Shin thought. Then, he regained his sense of touch. Feeling the warm sun rays flashing on his skin, the young man squirmed around as soft cotton friction rubbed against his back.
‘I’m on a bed?’ Shin continued to deduce his surroundings. His sense of smell was the next to kick in. Shin’s nostrils expanded, taking in whiffs of rosemary and lavender. Dropping his jaw, the tip of Shin’s tongue started to taste the pleasant air of the chambers he was kept in. It was at the perfect temperature, and there were even hints of medicinal plants being burned in incense burners.
Slowly but surely, Shin regained himself. His body was still sore all over, and each movement he made was in aching agony. But finally, Shin managed to open up his eyes. A familiar plain grey ceiling. That was the first thing that Shin saw. He was still a little dazed, so it took him a while to pivot his head to the side. All of his belongings, his favourite plants, paintings that were given to him, his elaborate bookshelf. They were all within reach from the soft bed that he was laid upon.
‘I’m… In my room?’ Shin flinched. ‘Wasn’t I in the Kori Federation? The Estrella Region? How am I here?’ Shin continued to wonder. Just like any patient who awoke after being shocked, the young man was trying to piece together all of the details that led to him being bound to his bed. Fortunately, he didn’t have to think for long.
Looking down, Shin could see a thin scalp with luscious black flowing hair coming out from the centre. His hands were just inches away from the anonymous head, and just the slightest tug on the sheets would alert the girl of Shin’s awakening. Thus…
“Mnmmm? Shin?” Kanari awoke from her slumber, her movements as sluggish as can be. Taking a while to comprehend the situation, the young maiden jumped up, her eyes now fully awake. “Shin?! SHIN!!! You’re finally awake!!!” Kanari leapt forward and stroked Shin’s face.
“K… Ka… Kanari?” Shin tried to mouth out words, but his body was way too weak to string a full sentence.
“Shin! Thank the heavens, you’re fine!” The maiden cried.
“H… How… Long…”
“How long were you asleep?” Kanari didn’t want Shin to torture himself, so she completed his sentence for him. “You were in a coma for two full weeks! We brought you all the way back to the Himmel Empire for your treatment!”
‘Two weeks?!’ Shin inwardly cried. That was the longest he had ever been sleeping. No wonder his body felt so heavy.
“Wait here! Let me go get Lady Seph! She’ll explain everything!” The young maiden bolted out of the room with everything that she had, leaving Shin alone to stare at the walls.
That morning… The news spread that the Prince of Water, the man who bravely took down a Payirci without minding the risks to his life, had finally awoken from his long coma.