“There really is no place like home…” A calm and refreshed voice sounded out in the gorgeous courtyard of Lady Seph’s abode. The sweet, pulpy aroma of flowers tickled Shin’s nose, prompting the sides of his lips to curl upwards with glee. Lying back on the wooden wheelchair that had been brought to him, the young man pivoted his head back and closed his eyes, basking in the afternoon glow.
“The weather really is perfect for a stroll,” Kanari replied, her face smiling as brightly as the sun. “Looks like you woke up at the perfect timing.”
“Haha, I’m known for my exceptional timing after all.” Shin joked.
Lady Seph had a habit of growing lush gardens to grow her favourite tea leaves or medicinal herbs for experimentation. Though it wasn’t her intention, the beautiful gardens served as an excellent therapeutic ground for wounded warriors and broken men. Shin sat comfortably on his wheelchair, assisted by the gorgeous beauty who hand-fed him everything, much to his embarrassment. Fortunately, there weren’t many strangers around to witness Shin’s shame.
“It really is a shame…” The disabled man breathed out deeply, deflating his chest and dropping his shoulders.
Shin had ignited the Shard of the Azure Dragon even though his body clearly wasn’t ready to. All of his mana circuits were fried, and his internal organs were severely damaged. His muscles had been stretched to their absolute limit while his bones felt the strain of the backlash by collapsing inwardly. And that was with Lady Seph’s blessing protecting him at all times. Shin was unaware of it, but the Golden String of Fate that his master had cast had been modified to protect him if he were to ignite the Shard of the Azure Dragon once again. In theory, once Shin used his fourth spiritual ability, Lady Seph’s Golden String of Fate would mitigate all of the damage, leaving Shin’s body completely intact.
Regrettably, the power of the shard was too potent, even for Lady Seph’s top tier healing and blessings. Even after all of the protections, Shin’s body still got fried inside and out. It took Lady Seph one full week of endless nourishment and rejuvenation to get his body into proper shape. To facilitate her treatments, Lady Seph induced Shin into a coma, where the bodily functions were the least active. That’s why Shin took a full two weeks to awaken from the damage.
The internal organs were simple for Lady Seph to deal with. It was the broken down mana circuits that proved to be challenging for the Divine Healer. Repairing each strand was as tricky as trying to thread a needle the size of a single cell. And thousands of failing mana circuits within Shin’s body were in desperate need of repair. Luckily, it was an operation that the Divine Healer had anticipated and prepared after the first time Shin ignited the shard.
“You should be thanking the lucky stars that you’re still alive and not a cripple.” Kanari heard Shin’s groan and chided him immediately.
“Haha, yeah.” Shin scratched the back of his head.
Kanari was right. Shin had gotten off lightly for using the shard. Through Lady Seph’s continuous efforts, Shin was able to preserve his cultivation level, and the only thing he needed to do was to lay low for a month, not use any of his spiritual abilities and cultivate cautiously every single day to speed up the recovery process.
“Still… It’s a shame that Junius had escaped… I really wanted to bring him in.” Shin hung his head down, staring straight at the flourishing fig tree. Once again, he was that close to achieving one of his two dreams. But fate was always on Junius’ side. No matter how many times Shin had gotten close, the viridian-haired elder brother of his always found a path out.
“You’ll have plenty of chances in the future.” Kanari leaned in, her moist breath touching the earlobes of Shin, sending happy shivers down his spine. Her two milky soft hands dropped down from the wheelchair handles, and her bosom rubbed the back of Shin’s head. “Right now, you just have to rest up and recover as soon as possible.” Kanari’s face soon turned a little impish. “A full month of rejuvenation. Looks like I will have a head-start in our final year at Imperius Academy. This time, I’ll beat you in academics!”
It was hard to remember after their epic adventures, but the pair were still students studying at the prestigious Imperius Academy. They were on in the fifth year and were soon reaching their final academic semester.
“You’re still not satisfied?” Shin chuckled with a raised brow. He was amused at how long Kanari kept this grudge. “You’re already the valedictorian for five consecutive years. Now that you’re already a Spirit Spectre, the sixth year valedictorian is sure to be yours. Who cares about some stupid academic score?”
“That’s easy for you to say! You took claimed the top academic spot every single time! Especially two years ago, you-!”
“Beat you by one point. I know, I know.” The wheelchair-bound youth wobbled his head. Back then, a commotion was caused when Shin’s undisputed throne was being challenged by Kanari’s excellence. They were neck-in-neck and were setting record after record. In the end, Shin outscored the studious maiden by one point at a combined weighted score of nine-hundred and eighty-two out of a thousand. Till this day, that failure kept ringing in Kanari’s mind, and she seemingly won’t let it go.
Shin sighed while his eyes dilated. He was having fun for the most part, but the experience in the Estrella Region had put his life into perspective. Well, not just the Estrella Region. His entire journey out of the Capital had impacted him significantly and he started to look at things with a different viewpoint.
Kanari and Shin were geniuses. Aristocrats sucked up to them, and plebeians sang their praises. Even now, the tale of how the Prince of Water so bravely took down a Payirci, knowing the potential repercussions of his actions were being spread far and wide, repeated as drinking stories at populated taverns. However, those who knew the real story understood that Shin was backed into a wall, with no other options left. Also, so what if they were geniuses within the safety of the Capital? Didn’t Junius almost massacre them all with relative ease?
It had become a topic of reflection, ever since Shin woke up from his coma. Studying at Imperius Academy was great, and all, but theoretical knowledge was useless until it was tested out. Shin’s one expedition out into the wildlands was as useful as the five years he stayed in the Capital, toiling endlessly day by day.
And that wasn’t just limited to Shin. Kanari was expected to enter the Spirit Spectre realm when she was in Year Six, and yet, the maiden broke through the second barrier of mortality in a foreign land, where danger lurked at every corner. As the old adage goes, walking a thousand miles was far superior to reading a hundred books. These few months where Shin had gone adventuring with his friends had enabled him to grow so much, which begged the question.
What was he doing? Remaining here in the Himmel Empire. Imperius Academy was great. Shin had learned so much about the world from staying in the best academic institution that the Himmel Empire could provide, and he had sucked clean all the martial arts that he could from Mychael. Not only that, he had formed unbreakable bonds with some of the most influential teenagers of High Society and befriended hundreds of promising talents that were bound to rise up the ranks in the future. So… What’s left for him in the Himmel Empire?
“What are you thinking about?” Kanari nuzzled her nose on Shin’s neck and before long, she noticed that the youth was staring deep into space.
“I… Think that I should leave for the Lantis Republic a little early.” The young man breathed out his true thoughts.
“Oh…” Kanari blinked twice. Her hands moved away from her lover’s broad chest as she turned to the front of the wheelchair and crouched on the ground. “Why do you think that?”
“Experience.” Shin succinctly replied. “Or the lack of it, to be precise.” His left hand grabbed Kanari’s hand and stroked the warm skin of the maiden. “I… No, we lack experience. We have been kept in this bubble where people applaud our names and try to kiss our asses every time we walk by. However, in the real world, in the war against the Black Masks… How many times have we been close to death?”
“But we were always against stronger opponents! Among members of our age, we’re really the best!”
“Do you think that argument would work in the middle of a battleground?” Shin didn’t look at it that way. So what if they were better than their peers? There were Spirit Venerates, Spirit Saints. Tier 9 and Primordial Spirit Beasts lurking at every corner. Against those behemoths, Shin’s genius didn’t matter. “Also, Junius himself is just four years older than us. Yet, he managed to make us heel.” Kanari felt her hands being tightened as her dainty fingers were beginning to be squashed.
“Kanari, we can’t stagnate anymore. I can’t stagnate anymore. It’s not a matter of just catching up to Junius now. We’re in the big leagues. From now on, Spirit Lords and Spirit Kings would be our staple targets. We can’t just hide under the fact that we’re younger and show some promise. We need to grow right now and quick.”
The news of the Payircis devastating the lands of the three superpowers had spread far and wide. Even Shin, who was mostly isolated from the outside world to recuperate his strength, had heard of the disastrous numbers. It sickened Shin to the core. The fact that the Black Masks were still terrorising the land with overwhelming amounts of Payircis and killing thousands of innocents at the snap of their fingers. Shin wanted to fight them, but the youth was still far too weak.
“I… I don’t want you to go…” Kanari closed her eyes and repeated a mental prayer. Her face was turning cold and the vigour that she once had diminished. Kanari knew that Shin’s departure was inevitable and she wanted to at least keep it out of her mind for an additional year. They had just gotten into a relationship, bypassing the endless amounts of hurdles that weighed on Shin’s heart.
Heck, their relationship wasn’t even on stable ground. Kanari wanted to build their love slowly in the next year, giving her at least some memories before Shin left for five years. However, deep down, Kanari knew that Shin moving to the Lantis Republic would be the best course of action for the budding youth. There, he would be baptised by the Celestial River and would be trained by the best water-elemental Spirit Users that exist. In fact, the sooner Shin left for the Lantis Republic, the better.
“Kanari, I understand… I too, don’t want to separate from you.” Shin wasn’t able to stand on his two feet, so he dragged the young girl down onto his lap, where he gently stroked on her hourglass waist. “That’s why I have a proposal. It’s quite selfish of me to even bring this up, but I have to.”
“Hmmm?” Adorably tilting her head, Kanari raised her brows in confusion.
Shin took one deep breath before hollering out at the top of his lungs: “I… Want you to move to the Lantis Republic with me!”
The declaration was too sudden. So sudden that Kanari didn’t have the appropriate face to respond to Shin.
“A-Ah… Y-you, see…” Shin realised his folly, and his face turned red from ear-to-ear. “Sister Bingying was sent as an observer from the Lantis Republic, right? So, I thought maybe we could do the same with you. Maybe with the rest as well. I mean… I don’t want to be all alone in a foreign land with no one I know, right? So, erm… What I mean is…”
“Hehe… I know what you mean.” Watching Shin all flustered triggered a switch in Kanari’s maiden heart. Her sultry lips silenced Shin’s with a flurry of tongue attacks, all while she lavished in her position on top of the youth’s lap. Kanari left the kiss with a thin silver strand of seductive fluid. Her face beaming, Kanari said: “You want me to stay with you for another five years, right?”
“…” Shin rolled his eyes. There was no winning against the future Duchess of Highgarden. “Yeah… That’s exactly it. I know that it’s a selfish thing for me to ask, and you have to discuss this with your parents and Saint Firebird. Not only that, we would have to trouble a Spirit Venerate to act as your bodyguard, and…”
“Hush…” The foxy girl placed her index finger over Shin’s lips. She had heard enough. “I will try to convince my parents. Don’t worry! I’ll make sure they understand the importance of having someone from the Himmel Empire by your side! No, I’ll make sure that I’m by your side! Who knows how many flings you would have in the Lantis Republic?!”
“Do you trust me that little?” A soft chuckled tickled the maiden’s ears. Just like Kanari, Shin’s switch had been turned on, and he tucked the girl down from his lap and closer to his torso. His left hand on her back and his right hand stroking her neck, Shin whispered.
“I promised you that I’m exclusively yours in the mortal realm. Don’t you forget that.”
“Hehe… I won’t.”
Everything was perfect. Once Shin took that one month to recover, he would set sail to the Lantis Archipelago, where he would train to become a dozen times stronger. With Kanari by his side, there wouldn’t be any loneliness or dread for the foreign land. He would undergo the baptism of the Celestial River, breakthrough into the Spirit Spectre realm, and become strong enough to participate in the Payirci raids to save the world from the Black Masks.
“Excuse me, Mistress Kanari. You have guests.” All of a sudden, the familiar female butler of Kanari’s climbed out of the shadows. The two in-heat teenagers were instantly snapped out of their stupor, and Kanari leapt out of Shin’s wheelchair, slapping her robes while dry-coughing to hide her reddened face.
“O-Okay. Shin, stay here for a while. I’ll go and receive them.” Since Shin was bound to his chair, Kanari was the one that fled the garden, leaving him alone in the awkward air to deal with the female butler.
They say that silence kills. A minute has passed, and the woman barely blinked while retaining her deadly stare on the young man. Shin flinched twice before finally caving in.
“How… How long have you’ve been watching?”
“From the beginning.”
‘A voyeur?’ Shin cried internally, even though he knew that it wasn’t the case. At that moment, Shin wanted to find a hole to hide his entire body in, not that it would help since the butler could just wring him out. And so, Shin waited patiently for five minutes in terrifying silence, until Kanari returned with two familiar faces.
“Latina! Natalie! You’re here!”
The two ladies from the Moon Mercenaries in Huuring City waddled through the narrow pathways of the mansion and made their way in front of Shin.
“Young hero Shin, I’m glad that you’re recovering.” Natalie was the first to bow. Latina, on the other hand, broke all forms of propriety and jumped right towards the disabled young man. “Are you okay, Brother Shin?”
“Yeah, I never felt better!” A lie, of course. Shin just didn’t want to worry the young girl too much. “I just need to rest up for a while. Anyway, don’t you live in Huuring City? Did you take the long trip here just to see me?”
“No. We were brought here with you.” Natalie corrected Shin’s misunderstandings. “The Alliance said that we were pivotal in finding the Payirci and uncovering the plot of the Black Masks, so they’re offering us a new life in the Himmel Empire. I would get a job in the Alliance, while Latina would go through proper schooling. As much as I like the mercenary lifestyle, ultimately a safe place, away from those dreadful things, would be best suited for Latina’s development.”
The middle-aged woman gently laughed while her hands continuously touched Latina’s hair. Her gaze was soothing and motherly. It reminded Shin of Lady Seph’s own touch.
‘She really cares for Latina…’ Shin thought. It was rare to have someone love a child that wasn’t their own flesh and blood this much.
“Right! Latina, I almost forgot! I promised that I would find your father!” Speaking of flesh and blood, Shin remembered his deal with the petite mercenary.
“Thank goodness… You remembered…” Latina covered her soft chest, breathing out a sigh of relief. She was worried that Shin would have forgotten and reneged on his promise.
“Of course, I would! Ah, come to think of it, I never asked for his name.”
“My father’s name is Garland Mull! And honestly, he’s quite hard to miss. My father has a large star mark covering his left eye! He also goes by the name of Star Face! Have you heard of him?”
~~~ End of Book 8 ~~~