End of Book 8 & Author’s Thoughts

PS: Before we start this, do note that this author’s thoughts is my longest yet. There’s a lot to explain and I tried to be concise, but it still ended up being this long. If you don’t have time, I’m sure you could skip it, but there are a tonne of important points I wrote here. So yeah, read at your own discretion. Oh, and I’ll be taking a break for one week. I’ll resume posting on the 8th of July!

WHATSUP!!! Linodo here!

Did you enjoy the end of ACT TWO?! Yeap! The end of book 8 marks the end of Act II. Wow, how fast did time fly? I had begun writing Spirit Immortal over a year ago and I would have never imagined that we would have reached this stage. I’d always thought that I would drop the novel since I had other obligations and I would be lying if I didn’t say I was tempted to for many parts of my short author life. But here we all are! One year since I first wrote my first word for Spirit Immortal. Round of applause for me!!! Hehe~

Before I get into the theme of Act II and whatever, there’s something I want to ask all of you… HOW WAS THE CLIFFHANGER?! Hehe, were you shocked? Remember at the end of Book 7 I said something about the ending of Book 8 being something I planned long ago? Even before I came to write down Shin or Ariel?

Yeah, so what I was referring to was the ULTIMATE CLIFFHANGER that I had planned. Latina’s father is actually STAR FACE! The same Star Face that was Shin’s first official kill!!! I wanted to write an arc where the main character, who had been broken down so many times throughout the story, finally picks himself up, becomes a monster with his skills, gets the girl and is almost ‘invincible’ in the story. Only to be destroyed by a little girl, who was weaker than paper, just by a simple sentence. Not an enemy stronger than himself, not by someone smarter than himself. The person that would cause Shin the most pain, would be a simple girl, who had no power, money, intelligence whatsoever. And all with one line.

I actually read the comments that people had speculated about Latina being Star Face’s daughter which honestly shocked me. I didn’t expect some of you guys to catch on that early on. I had even purposely written Latina’s age to switch between twelve in the early book and thirteen in the later parts of the book to mess with your heads. Since Star Face disappeared four years ago when Latina was nine, she would be thirteen when Shin met her. Nonetheless, kudos to you smartlings for figuring it out. You deserve a cookie!

Rewind the clock a few years, back when I still read dozens of Wuxia novels a day from Wuxiaworld, Volarenovels and Gravitytales. No, you could even go further back to when I read exclusively Japanese web novels using Novelupdates. The days of Baka-Tsuki, Japtem and Yoraikun. Whenever I saw a protagonist kill off a random ‘cannon fodder,’ I had always kept this thought in the back of my mind:

‘Hey, doesn’t that guy/gal have a family? How could you just kill him off so easily like that?’

You see, humans are complex. Yes, there are evil people and many of them deserve death, but for the most part, not everyone should be killed off with a snap of someone else’s finger. They had an entire backstory, maybe a wife or two, and most importantly, killing someone is quite a tall deed to ask from a normal human being. Of course, as I continued down the path of an author, I’ve learnt that no one cares about a random nobody’s that only served to show how strong the protagonist is. So I tried to add my own form of cannon fodder in this book. Remember Winfred at the start of the book? His motivations were so paper thin that I nearly wanted to write him as a lustful pampered noble boy. However, Shin needed someone retarded to help show the audience, you guys, how much he had grown since the time skip. So I created him and killed him. At the snap of my fingers.

But I really hated it. When I read Winfred back to myself, I thought to myself: ‘Fuck, is there really someone that stupid to think with their crotch and go against two well-known geniuses? Could I add something more? Should I create a tragic backstory? Maybe he didn’t want to rape Kanari really and was serving someone higher?’

However, as many of you have read the comments in earlier chapters, people were telling me not to go in depth in writing side-characters or cannon fodder that no one would remember. Some have even accused me of using it to lengthen the novel. In certain aspects, writing more about the world surrounding Shin does help me with the word count, but that’s not the main draw. I write more about the side characters, I write more about the world, to hopefully make the Spirit Immortal universe a more vibrant place.

Take Gawil Jefferson, the Watkin Murderer in Book 2 for example. His purpose was to help an innocent ten-year-old Shin learn more about the world outside of Frie Mountain and to understand that the world isn’t always black or white. Danroy, Suji and even Kanari to a certain extent in Book 5. They were there to help show that the universe around Shin doesn’t revolve solely around him. Danroy, though privileged by any measure of the word, has been dealing with his own set of issues. Suji and Kanari were no exception. Kanari’s arc begun as her being this perfect superhuman that everyone likes. However, as the world begins to thicken, you’ll peek behind the curtains only to see a flawed human being, just like how every person in this world is.

And thus, it leads me to the theme of Act II.

Growth.

Or to be more precise, how growth affects someone and what lengths would one go for growth?

Let me ask you this question. I just want you to pause whatever you’re doing and think long and hard about this… Shin in chapter one and Shin now… Is he the same Shin? Of course, he isn’t! Shin in chapter one is a lazy slob that doesn’t even wake up in the mornings. He hates working out, he never takes initiative… Wow, he really sounds like the current me… Anyway, that’s not the point!

When I wrote him that way, I’m sure many hated how lazy and weak he was. Shin always was the damsel in distress and he wasn’t really ‘likeable.’ However, there’s a reason why I wrote him that way. One word. Growth.

I got bored of reading reincarnated geniuses who were perfect from day one. I wanted to write a main character that was flawed, lazy and idiotic. However, over the books, Shin’s power as well as his character, has grown tremendously. Of course, I had to add potential in him so that the readers, you guys, would be interested to see his future, so I added hints of his talents all throughout the early books.

In Book 1, Shin was first introduced. He was lazy with a little character. Sometimes he was whiny, sometimes he was stupid. Most importantly of all, he lacked imagination. Learning about his own ability, Shin could only think of making water spheres with it. No direction in life with no clue on how he was to progress.

In Book 2, Shin became a healer. His character back then was non-confrontational and he would never stand up for himself, needing Ariel or the Instructor to pick up in his stead. So his early relationships with Lady Seph were rather one-sided and a healer was the best route for him back then.

In Book 3, Shin continued on one the healing path and was brought to Aldrich’s Keep. There, he failed to save his very first patient, Ronlen. That taught him that life was fragile and he learned to love his immediate family even more.

In Book 4, this was where his character makes the most growth. Shin learns of Junius’ disappearance and goes ballistic. After learning the value of life, he despised the Elders in the Frie Clan for ignoring Junius and cuts off contact, searching for Junius all by himself. Later in the book, he learns about the truth of the Frie and Awter Clan and his mind is sent in a disarray. Shin now hates the Frie Clan, but he doesn’t know where to direct his hate to because of how detached he was to the Awter Clan. Then, of course, the dreaded Ariel’s death. Shin became devastated by the death and it changed the course of his life, quite literally like nothing that happened before.

In Book 5, Shin attended the academy while leaving behind Frie Mountain with two new objectives. Bringing Junius to justice, and becoming a Spirit Immortal. The now lazy Shin had turned into a hard-working monster that would bleed from all of his pores if it meant improving himself. And he also met the new characters that would help shape him in future arcs.

In Book 6, Shin goes to the Land of Dreams in pursuit of Junius and killed his first person, Star Face. That placed him on a trajectory of no return. Now, to pursue his dreams and to grow, Shin was willing to claim another soul.

In Book 7, Shin was brought to the Summit. There he learnt to be confident in himself and it could be seen where he stood up to the Spirit Saints and fought ardently in the battle with Lukman.

Finally, in Book 8, I finally get to write the ‘perfect Shin’ that everyone has been asking for. His abilities have now matured and he would dominate almost anyone that dared to step in the ring with him. He’s now nothing like the Book 1 Shin. Shin would kill if need be and has done so multiple times, shown when he killed Winfred, Craig and Susan without thinking about the blood being shed. Book 8 Shin would do everything ‘perfectly.’ He would fight for what he wants to protect and isn’t stupid enough to fight Junius when he was outnumbered and outmatched. But then… Even though Shin was so overpowered, even though he was perfect… He couldn’t escape his own mistakes.

Now that he learnt that he killed Latina’s father, how would Shin continue to grow in the next book? Would he be discouraged to kill to grow anymore? He wanted to execute Junius with his own hands, but is that the case anymore? There are so many more points where Shin can grow and I’m not done developing this character. Heck, I’m not even done developing this world and it has been over 800,000 words!

I said the theme of Act II is growth, and that’s a partial lie. Growth has happened and will continue to happen throughout this entire novel. To keep it as short as I possibly could, I had skimmed through a lot of details so I hope that you’ll interpret it for yourselves. Things like Kanari’s love arc, Junius’ yandere arc, the introduction of the Payirci… There are so many things that I would love to discuss but this post is really getting too long. It’s already at the length of my average chapter!

Oh, but before I leave, I will give you the title of the next book, to add on to the ultimate cliffhanger that I made. The next book would be titled, ‘The Celestial River.’ So take that as you will.

Thank you for supporting Spirit Immortal! I love ya faces! And I’ll see you next week!

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Chapter 53: A New Promise

“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!”

“What?”

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.”

Latina smiled.

“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 ~~~

Chapter 52: The Light That Consumes The Darkness (3)

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!”

“Raphael, we…”

“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.”

“Thank you…”

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.

Chapter 51: The Light That Consumes The Darkness (2)

A disgusting taste of mud and gravel filled Junius’ taste buds. There was even a hint of iron, a taste that he was most familiar with, mixed inside of his mouth. Junius’ trembling eyelids flickered up and down as he got up from the rubble and filth that covered his body. He sat down. A pungent earthy smell dominated the air and filled Junius’ lungs, which were aching wildly.

‘W-What… Just happened.’ Like a patient who was in shock, Junius felt a little amnesiac. He couldn’t remember what he was doing just moments prior, and neither could he understand why he was on the ground. The Obsidian Water Blade that he summoned had retreated back into his body, seemingly in fear of something much more terrifying than itself, and his two-metre-long odachi was sprawled out just a few metres away. Its gem had lost a tremendous amount of its lustre, leaving only a tainted mark of half-assed mana.

‘I was… I was fighting Shin.’ Slowly, the images started to flow back into his memory. ‘I was fighting Shin, and I wounded two… No three people… Then he created some mist to hide in. After that…’ Junius continued to piece together what transpired, all while punching his cranium to quell the devastating headache he was experiencing. ‘Then… A white light? Was it light? Light burst out from the mist and pierced through the Minotaur and the barrier, hitting the Paradise Heart… THE PARADISE HEART!!!’

Junius eyes bulged out, and he turned around amidst the ashes and rubble. It was all coming back to him. The final seconds that led to the eventual attack that blurred out the visions in his mind. He turned around once and found nothing. Those wobbly legs of his were unable to support his weight and Junius fell down repeatedly. Though, he didn’t lose faith. Junius kept pushing through the dust, hoping to find the one thing that he was tasked to protect by the Allfather. He lacked any mana, and his mind wasn’t in any shape to make rational decisions. Nonetheless, Junius continued to search. And then…

He saw it.

“No…” A rare word of fear, mixed with a dose of denial flowed out of Junius’ mouth.

The Paradise Heart. The plasma orb that controlled the entire Payirci, the floating tower that resisted four Spirit Venerates attacks and created heaps of Umbras for the Alliance Army to fight and conquer, had been shattered beyond recognition. Broken shards from the sphere landed all about the floors of the chambers while none of the mana being stored within remained intact. The Umbras, including the Tier 6 Minotaur, had faded out of existence and returned back into the abyss, where it belonged.

Shin’s one attack, a beam strike from a Spirit Adept, had taken down one of the most enigmatic structures of the modern world and brought the Black Masks to its knees. Junius didn’t have the mental capacity to fathom such a strike. He continued to kneel, his gaze never leaving the fractured remains of the Paradise Heart.

All of a sudden, a crack formed on the reinforced ceiling of the chambers before a tall silhouette dived down like a falcon. The blue-haired man took one look around before finding the person responsible for guarding this room and instantly teleported to him, grabbing him up with one tug.

“Junius! What happened?!” Ao, the World Serpent, cried out, his calm face distorted into one of shock. He had been tasked with holding off the entire Alliance before they could climb up the Payirci and find the hidden and reinforced room that housed the Paradise Heart. It was a perfect plan. Junius could capture his younger siblings while the Alliance would go bonkers and take more risks in the hopes of reclaiming the young geniuses.

Yet, never in his wildest dreams would Ao expect the Paradise Heart to be destroyed from within. Now that there was no protection, all of the Spirit Venerates were soon alerted to the presence of the once-secret chambers, and the Alliance would be here at any second now.

“Shin… He destroyed the Paradise Heart.”

“He what?!” Ao dropped Junius. “What do you mean, he destroyed the Paradise Heart?! Weren’t you protecting it?!”

“I-I-I don’t know…” Junius was just as clueless as the World Serpent. Rattled and bruised, there was no way for the Vaishya to coherently voice out his thoughts. Ao understood that and turned Junius’ body around and gave him a princess carry.

“We’re leaving!”

“B-But… Shin!”

“You’re still trying to care for your younger brother?! Even at a time like this?!” The World Serpent was just a few sentences away from killing Junius once and for all, to atone for his crimes. His single-mindedness was an admirable trait when it was used to better the syndicate that is. However, that devotion had now turned to bite the Black Masks in the ass. “Leave him! He destroyed the Payirci, he made you fail your mission twice, and he’s not willing to leave with you! Why are you still so stubborn?!”

Junius hung his head down, unsure of how to reply the Noble Beast. Shin has done nothing but make Junius suffer in the Black Masks syndicate. Junius’ first failure in the organisation was due to Shin. His second failure was likewise due to Shin. Junius now had to face the wrath of the Allfather for destroying a Payirci ahead of schedule. Why? Because of Shin. However, Junius still kept his chin high. His goal never faltered, and his eyes were always on the prize. So why was he so stubborn?

“Because he’s my brother…” Junius replied, still battered and blue. It would be in Ao’s best interest to drop Junius right now and smash his head like an egg. However, instead of doing that, the World Serpent just sighed, shaking his head in complete frustration.

“Fucking humans…” The Tier 9 Spirit Beast cursed and turned his back away from the exit. If he rushed, Ao could potentially nab Shin before the Spirit Venerates rushed in. Furthermore, Shin was just lying down still, in the middle of his sobbing comrades, that lacked the power to resist the World Serpent’s attacks. He could do this.

Alas, what could go wrong, would go wrong.

Before Ao could make his final approach, a golden string pierced out of Shin’s Spirit Core, while dense amounts of golden spiritual energies torrented out like an everflowing river. The golden string wrapped Shin up in a cocoon while its other half rapidly spun around, creating an effeminate humanoid shape. A dense spiritual pressure descended upon those inside the now-decrepit chambers, forcing all to halt their actions instantly. For both the Black Masks and the youngsters seated around Shin, they were on high alert. No one knew the identity of the golden string, and it may as well be yet another enemy. However, just a few seconds later, a familiar adenoidal voice reassured Shin’s comrades to drop their arms.

“Stupid boy…”

A golden ghost bearing the facial features of Lady Seph stood on the stone cold concrete ground. Her translucent body stroked the broad forehead of her disciple as mana continued to pour into the young boy, rejuvenating all of his split mana circuits and fried internal organs.

‘A Spirit Venerate? How could a Spirit Venerate come out from a child’s body?’ Ao was intrigued. He had never heard of such an amazing spiritual ability, even with his long years roaming through the earth.

“Lady Seph?! How did that bitch get here?!” Junius was the first one to recognise the face that stole Shin from the Awter Clan. Lady Seph’s golden phantom twitched its brows and stood up with a death glare that could kill a thousand warriors. Releasing all of the spiritual pressure that she had, Lady Seph’s mouth moved once.

[Silence!]

Sending out her intent, Lady Seph forced Junius’ mouth to be sealed tight. It has been a while since she used her Words of the Angel. For some odd reason, Lady Seph remembered that the first time she ever used that ability in front of Shin was to cure Junius’ crippled legs. In hindsight, after living through the past ten years, it would have been wiser to have just let the young man remain a cripple for the rest of his life.

“…” Though the World Serpent wasn’t under the effects of the Words of the Angel, Ao remained silent as well. He couldn’t comprehend how a Spirit Venerate could rise up from a Spirit Adept’s body and retain all of her abilities with no loss of efficiency. The World Serpent wanted to inquire, but he wasn’t given the luxury.

Before Ao could even open his mouth, the four Spirit Venerates that had been desperately searching for the missing youths finally found their way into the broken down chambers. Elder Baobiao instantly jumped down and cast a defensive barrier while the three Spirit Venerates sent by the Alliance, Jingyu Qiang, Gundla Barak and Duke Cyanjaw, raised their Spirits in preparations to fight against the Tier 9 Spirit Beast.

“Looks like your brother is well-defended, Junius.” Ao shrugged his shoulders. He could attempt to steal Shin away from the five Spirit Venerates that defended him, but then Junius would be exposed instantly, and that was a risk that he absolutely couldn’t take. “Sorry about that, we’ll just have to go.”

“…” Junius wanted to protest, but his mouth was tied shut. All he could do was flail his hands around like a spoilt baby.

“Where do you think you’re going?!” Shouted Duke Cyanjaw, his Rinfermar Gauntlets beaming with tremendous anger. His two feet barged forward like a bear’s charge, ready to claim some blood.

Ao wasn’t amused though. The two crystal clear pupils of his glowed with reptilian wrath as a dense spiritual pressure descended upon the masses. The Spirit Venerates instantly halted their steps, and Elder Baobiao had even intensified his barrier, protecting the poor youngsters from any harm.

‘A Peak Tier 9 Spirit Beast!’ All of them uniformly decided. Such a vile presence could only be present in a Spirit Beast that bathes in death and destruction. Not to mention, the two ominous vertical pupils that Ao had are dead giveaways that he wasn’t human. If the Spirit Venerates wanted to act, with all the debris falling down from the crumbling Payirci, the death toll to the Alliance Army that was retreating would be catastrophic.

“Let us meet again.” No one knew who the World Serpent was talking to. Before they could clarify anything, a torrential gush of hurricane wind pushed all the Spirit Venerates away, giving Ao the perfect opportunity to escape with Junius in his arms.

“Fuck!” Gundla Barak from the Kori Federation cursed out, kicking his heel into the broken down platform. The Blade of Death, one of the primary causes for the tragedy in the Land of Dreams and the person responsible for orchestrating the most humiliating defeat in the Kori Federation, had just waltzed away scot-free.

“Fuck indeed…” Duke Cyanjaw hung his mouth down, and his eyes were enlargened as long as they could stretch. “What was that monster? Did the Black Masks have such a powerful beast under its command?”

“That must have been the World Serpent.” Jingyu Qiang, the Spirit Venerate from the Lantis Republic replied. “It was responsible for the murder of the Dalgeom Sect’s Spirit Emperor Wangu. There have been reports that it was on the verge of becoming a Primordial Beast. Our Saint from the Shenshe Clan has been chasing it down, but it has always eluded her. To think that it has been acting as the guardian of the Blade of Death…”

“The World Serpent…” The two Spirit Venerates thought to themselves and paced closer to the escape hole which Ao used. They were tempted to give chase, but ever since the Paradise Heart had been destroyed, the Payirci that the Black Masks used had started to crumble. Saving the remaining Alliance troops was of paramount importance at this juncture. And of course…

“Shin! Shin!”

The Spirit Venerates witnessed the collapsed Prince of Water, who was still being treated by the phantom of his teacher. Kanari and the twin’s tears continued to fall while they touched the cold face of their loved one, desperately trying to bring some warmth with their touch.

“Is Shin going to be okay?” Kanari asked the blonde healer, her tears still flowing down like a waterfall.

Lady Seph’s phantom looked at the crying maiden, her eyes sparkling with a distinct interest. Kanari has never shown such an outpour of emotions before. Something must have happened in their journeys, the two-century-year-old woman thought. “Don’t worry. I have been researching how to treat Shin’s injuries by the shard’s backlash the moment after he used it the first time. I know how to treat him, but it’ll take time, and preferably a more conducive environment.”

Lady Seph looked around the tower that was being broken down and scoffed in derision. This was hardly a place for healing!

“Right! We should get the injured out of here!” Elder Baobiao agreed. At this point, he was praying for Saint Longyu Tian’s leniency when meting out his eventual punishment for failing to protect Shin.

“Yes…” Jingyu Qiang looked at the escape hole and turned back to the unconscious Prince of Water. It was evident which task had a higher priority.

“Let’s return.”

Chapter 50: The Light That Consumes The Darkness (1)

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.

IIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!

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?

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!

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.”

“But!”

“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.”

IIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!

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.

“Ignite.”

The world of darkness, the Chambers of the Paradise Heart, that controlled the Payirci… Was now consumed with light.

Chapter 49: The Paradise Heart (3)

Junius stood high up before the throne, looking down on the young men and women like they were peasants and he was their king. The hiltless water blade in his hand pulsated dark matter out, sending out an ominous aura of death and destruction with every passing minute. The Shudras were all laid out on the floor, groaning and moaning with broken limbs while the Umbras slowly faded out of existence. Now, the only two threats that the ten young geniuses had was the Tier 6 Minotaur and the man known as the Blade of Death. After fighting the Minotaur for the past few minutes, they knew a great deal about the Spirit Beast that could rival a Spirit Lord. On the other hand, no one really knew how Junius fought with the Obsidian Water Blade.

“Shin, you have known him the longest. What are the abilities that he possesses?” Huddled up together, the young heroes whispered under their breath, waiting for Junius to make the first move.

The young man shook his head grimly. “I can’t tell you everything. I only know that his Spirit used to be called the Azure Water Blade and his first two abilities are basic ones such as Pierce and Elemental Ring. After Junius had joined the Black Masks, his Spirit had turned black, and I know nothing of his new abilities.”

“So there’s a gap in your knowledge.” Suji frowned. Since Junius was now a Spirit Spectre, it meant that he had five spiritual abilities and Shin had only identified two. Not knowing the other three could prove fatal, especially since Junius had a reputation of murdering any that he came across. “Whatever, if he has Pierce and Elemental Ring as his primary abilities, we should be able to figure out a workaround.”

“Hmph! Let me test him then!” Natasha scoffed and leapt forward with her Starlight Katana beaming at maximum capacity. She cast her Celestial Aura and moved her weapon to fit her first movements, ‘the First Waltz, Entering the Cosmos’.  Oddly enough, the Minotaur did nothing to stop the swordmaiden. Natasha was now five metres away from Junius, and her Spirit was raging to land a final strike on his succulent flesh. However…

CLINK!!!

The Starlight Katana hadn’t tasted blood, but water. Hardened black water in the shape of a sword that is. Though the wielder of the Obsidian Water Blade wasn’t the man she hoped to battle, but a dark phantom that bore no face. It did, however, was moulded in the same chiselled shape as the person who Natasha had hoped to fight.

“Sword Partner?!” The heiress of a line of swordmasters gasped. Natasha had seen her fair share of the world, travelling to the top sword organisation in the world and learning anything that she could about the way of a swordmaiden. It could be said that she lived and breathed by the sword. So there was no way in hell that she would mistake one of the most popular and esteemed spiritual abilities known to the world.

“He learned Sword Partner?!” It wasn’t just Natasha who was taken aback. Even Isadore, the intelligence guru couldn’t help but scream.

“What’s that?” Shin quickly asked.

“Sword Partner… An ability that creates a complete replica of the swordmaster’s body. All movements, skills and martial arts are being perfectly cloned to make the most ultimate partner to aid in a swordmaster’s battle.” Isadore explained. “A swordmaster must become a saint in his craft before even attempting to create this ability, else it would just prove to be a useless dummy. It’s a high-risk, high-reward spiritual ability to learn, and not many swordmasters would even attempt to create it.”

“So Junius creating it means…”

“He’s a cut above the rest.” The silver-haired youth continued. “He’s probably a better swordsman than any of our school instructors.”

“…” Shin was rendered mute by his friend’s response. Imperius Academy instructors are the cream of the crop, and there weren’t many that could top their expertise. Yet, none of them could create Sword Partner, especially as a mere Spirit Spectre.

The Starlight Blade was taken aback by Junius sudden increase in power, but her frown quickly turned into a happy smile. Her blood was boiling, and her face was flushed. She had fought her fair share of sword prodigies in her day, and none of them had even come close to creating Sword Partner. The last time she witnessed the spiritual ability was through her third uncle, who had broken into the Rank 60 Spirit King realm.

And thus, she fought. All of her swordplay, all of her Starlight Waltz, were being pushed to the absolute limit by the shadowy figure with the same sword that Junius had possessed. Natasha relentlessly went on the assault. Her attacks were brutal and fierce, sharp, but never barbaric. All of her movements were planned to the millisecond, and her reactions were honed tirelessly for the better part of two decades. However, all of her training didn’t matter. The Starlight Waltz that she was so confident in, the dance that she had been reliant on for all of her battles seemed to be useless against Junius’ swordplay.

If Natasha were to describe it, it was like trying to cut through a calm and pristine lake. Her swings would get parried like they were a child’s punch. Her thrusts would be dodged effortlessly, and her odd movements were read so flawlessly and adapted to within a fraction of a second that Natasha felt that there was no point in executing her perfected dance. The Sword Partner of Junius was on the defensive, so there wasn’t any need to showcase his flamboyant attacks. However, just his defensive prowess was capable of putting Natasha through a lifetime’s worth of inferiority complex.

“Natasha… Is losing in sword arts?” Suji muttered under his breath, careful not to let his emotions show. Likewise, Danroy was trying hard not to disparage Natasha’s skills. They were her teammates, so they knew how powerful the Aldana sword arts were. Even if they weren’t as good as the Dalgeom Sect’s legacy arts, the Aldana swordplay was in the upper echelons of the world’s best sword arts.

“We should support her.” Elrin gulped. They had been watching the fight play out without even giving Natasha any assistance. It was time for them to change that dynamic.

“No, you shan’t.” A cold voice from hell disrupted their peace. Junius looked down at the lowly peasants with a frosty gaze with his Obsidian Water Blade pointed down at them. “You shall die now.”

WHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHH!!!

Without warning, the Obsidian Water Blade turned illusory, and the next moment, Elrin’s Eternity Paladin had faded into nothingness, and her petite body had fallen to the ground, her right hand clutching her abdomen. Gushing crimson fluids flowed out en masse as her face turned as pale as a sheet. Large beads of sweat dripped down her face while a maniacal groan echoed through the empty chambers.

“ELRIN!!!” Shin immediately pounced into action. A dense cerulean water stream jumped out from the floor and covered the deadly wound that she had sustained. Those with a less trained eye were unable to make out what had happened. However, Ella and Isadore’s faces were trembling, a mixture of awe and fear was seen in their eyes.

“He used ‘Pierce?’ That was ‘Pierce?!’” Isadore could barely hold back his scream. What Junius did was quite simple. He extended his Spirit to pierce through Elrin’s stomach. So if it was that simple, how come no one could defend against it? Well, that was the problem. No one could. The speed in which Junius unleashed ‘Pierce’ was unheard of, even for Isadore. Only two members of the group saw the attack, and they could do nothing to react to it, let alone stop it.

“Danroy! Shield us! Natasha! Come back!” Isadore ignored any chain of command and barked out his orders. The swordmaiden knew of the severity of the situation and immediately obliged. Natasha leapt down the stairwell with all that she had, hoping to close in the distance within two seconds. She moved at breakneck speeds for a Spirit Adept, but even that wasn’t enough to stop the Blade of Death.

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Junius turned his wrist and sent out yet another ‘Pierce’. The attack flew through the air at a speed that no eye could follow. The nine youngsters standing at the foot of the staircase could only watch in horror as their comrade’s chest gets viciously pierced by the elongated Obsidian Water Sword.

Shizen instantly brought out his vines to grab the falling swordmaiden while Danroy so angrily cast his Bangeo Rhinoceros Head to protect the team. Shin now had two victims to treat, and he intended to do so with all of his might. The water stream that was healing Elrin soon turned into two as he embraced Natasha was his own healing powers.

“How is his ‘Pierce’ so fast?” Suji cried out.

“It’s his innate spiritual ability,” Shin replied. “That’s the spiritual ability that he awakened with his Azure Water Blade, and it’s also the ability that he’s the most proficient with. He must have trained it to perfection.” Even a drop of water could split a rock, given enough time and perseverance. For Junius’ ‘Pierce’ to reach speeds that none of the young heroes could react to, the Vaishya must have trained it tirelessly throughout the years.

‘If he had aimed for the head or heart… No wonder he’s nicknamed the Blade of Death.’

Many had claimed to witness Junius fight, but none of those who had seen the Obsidian Water Blade had lived to tell the tale. Why? Because Junius would kill them before they even got the chance to reflect on their folly.

“Danroy! Keep the Bangeo Rhinoceros head up! Suji, Kanari! Fire your spiritual abilities from the inside! Ella! Emma! You two do the same! No matter what you do, DO NOT go outside of Danroy’s protection!” Shin hollered out his orders and continued to heal the two injured girls. Their heads were filled with sweat, and their guts were bleeding out. Shin had to continuously treat them, and even the slightest of distractions would prove to be fatal.

Junius watched the mayhem unfold inside of Danroy’s Bangeo Rhinoceros phantom, his shoulders dropped and nose inflamed. “And you think that a mere phantom could protect you?”

Once more, Junius willed his Obsidian Water Sword to stretch out. The tip of the blade burst through at blinding speeds once more, slicing apart the seemingly impregnable protection that Danroy had cast. Just like his two comrades, the obese youth fell down, clutching centre of his chest in complete agony.

“Ah, I missed… I was aiming for his heart… Looks like that barrier did have some use.” Junius jokes, but no one could hear him. Their eyes were all concentrated on the falling fat man, who had so bravely stood at the frontlines in hopes of protecting his friends. All the eyes except for one pair. Shin knew that Junius wasn’t going to end his assault just there and Shin started to monitor the wrists of the Vaishya. Since he couldn’t move fast enough to outrun the speed of ‘Pierce’, Shin had to guess who Junius’ next target was from the motion of his hands.

Just as he anticipated, Junius had moved on to his next target. The tip of the Obsidian Water Blade was now directed at Shizen, who was still in a daze, unsure of what he should do. Before Junius could strike, Shin’s ankles turned illusory as he executed the Lightning Swallow Steps, moving as fast as he could before the blade extended itself.

Whhhhhhhhhooooooooshhhhhhhhhhh!!!

Once more, Junius executed ‘Pierce.’ The blade moved faster than the speed of sound, viciously trying to find its target. However, just before it claimed Shizen’s head for its own, Shin’s enhanced body had already made its way to protect his friend, forcing the Obsidian Water Blade to stop just inches away from Shin’s heart.

“Shin…” Junius’ hot head cooled. No matter how angry he was, there was no way that he would claim his own younger brother’s life. The Obsidian Water Blade burst into a million water droplets, leaving Shin and Shizen completely intact.

“Fuck you, Junius.” Shin spat, bringing out a dense fog that covered all of his comrades. He needed to block the vision of Junius while healing the three fallen individuals. Luckily for him, his ‘Healing Mist’ could tick both those boxes.

Junius was helpless. Within the fog, he couldn’t identify which shadow was Shin’s or the twins. If he randomly shot into the mist, Junius could potentially murder yet another one of his family members, something that he would much rather avoid. So, while the Vaishya was desperately looking for an answer, it gave the youngsters a much-needed break to regroup and plan out their next course of actions.

“I say we attack him all at once!” Suji suggested. “We can overwhelm him with our numbers! Kanari you can use Lunar Beam to cover our charge!”

“That’s stupid,” Isadore interjected. “Have you forgotten the Minotaur and his Sword Partner that’s protecting him? Even if we could ignore those monsters, Junius’ ‘Pierce’ is far too dangerous to charge into. We can’t defend it, and we can’t avoid it! Charging in is tantamount to suicide!”

“So what do you suggest we do?! Stay here and let him murder us one by one?!”

“…” Shin had been silently treating his three injured friends. Watching Suji disagree with Isadore made him realise one thing. All of this was his fault.

The blood and pain had opened a can of worms that he had sealed deep in the recesses of his memories. If not for him, the Awter Clan wouldn’t have attacked Frie Mountain so recklessly, and Junius wouldn’t have ordered the attack on the Second Elder abode. If not for him, the Frie Clan may still have their prized geniuses alive and kicking. If not for him, Ariel may still roam this earth…

Kanari, Isadore, Shizen, Elrin, Suji, Danroy and Natasha. They were all innocent parties in this mess. A mess that Shin himself has created. If Junius gets his way, these seven would be lying in a pool of their own blood while Shin and the twins would awake in a faraway place, bound by the Black Masks for the rest of their lives. That wasn’t a fate that Shin wanted. Not for his friends and not for himself.

So, he decided.

“Guys, I’ll stop Junius.” Shin declared as the opened wound on Danroy finally closed up. He had finally healed the three who were injured and was ready to take the final plunge for the team.

“I’ll ignite the shard.”

Chapter 48: The Paradise Heart (2)

Shin didn’t have the time to think about the two Spirit Spectres he killed. Whether he wanted to bask in the glory of beating two Vaishyas or taking a timeout to catch a breath, Shin was ripped from any options as the Umbras continued to attack relentlessly. The Tier 6 Minotaur was being kept at bay, but just barely, by the valiant efforts of the three weapon-type Spirit Adepts. All while the twin Ice Fairies and the Freak of the Dundlewoods killed off the weaker Umbras while Elrin gave her support.

A stream of water spiked up from the floor and slowly chilled into a gorgeously deadly spear, with an indestructible tip. Shin brought out three orbs of water, each one densely packed with high quantities of his mana and spun them around his body. He was battered and blue, but that wasn’t an excuse to stop swinging his weapon. There was still a fight to be won, and it had to be done quickly. The youngsters weren’t invincible or more importantly, they weren’t immune to fatigue. If the battle waged on for an hour longer, there would be no geniuses from the Imperius Academy anymore.

“How are you holding up?” Shin jumped with the Spear of Aiglos in his hand, aiding Isadore’s front in pushing the Minotaur back.

“Not good.” The silver-haired elfin grimly replied. “It may be an Umbra, but a Minotaur is still a Tier 6 Spirit Beast. We don’t have the firepower to completely annihilate it. And it doesn’t help that all of its injuries are being healed by that stupid core in the centre of the throne.” Isadore’s eyes shifted to the intolerable object that continued to pulsate with plasma within its core.

“It regenerates using the Paradise Heart?”

“Paradise my ass! It’s more like a hellish nightmare!” The young man spat, his pale white face reddened by the blood vessels being popped within his body.

“Have you tried attacking the Paradise Heart directly? To cut the Umbra from its core?”

“You think I haven’t tried?! The Minotaur is far too agile and powerful! Not to mention, there are countless more Umbras blocking our path forward! Any attacks that we throw at the core would just be negated or rendered ineffective through excessive defences!” Isadore recounted his experience with the Paradise Heart. Simply put, reaching the Paradise Heart was easier said than done.

“…” Shin squinted. He knew that it would be hard to take on the Paradise Heart when there were so many defences mounted to protect it. After all, it was the nucleus of the Payirci. They may have bypassed the hardest hurdles, which was finding the chambers and bypassing the thousands of trials and tribulations one would typically have to make to reach this stage, but it didn’t mean that their job of taking it down was easy.

“How about this? You and I will hold back the Minotaur for a few seconds. Let Suji and Natasha ready their strongest attacks to strike at the Paradise Heart. Their pure offensive spiritual abilities are stronger than any of ours.” Shin suggested.

Isadore agreed that Shin’s plan was a great one, but once he caught sight of his friend’s hands trembling, the young man replied with his own rebuttal. “Are you sure that you’re up for the task? I don’t think that you can sustain a fight with a Minotaur after killing two Vaishyas.”

“It doesn’t matter.” The black-haired boy shook his head. His expression was placid, and his emotions were calm. Shin’s body may be failing him, but it didn’t stop his resolve. “If we don’t do this, we’re all going to lose anyway. So we might as well try it.”

“Hah… There’s my leader.” It was hard to dispute with Shin when he brings forth his most heroic front. “I’ll take its upper body, you try and damage its bottom. I’ll relay your plan to Natasha and Suji.”

Isadore flew through the dusty air with his massive spear in hand, piercing through any attacks that the Minotaur threw at him. The young elf-like boy was like a speedy bunny, hopping from platform to platform. Whispers flowed out of his mouth to the two other young prodigies, and they all turned to look at Shin. Natasha immediately nodded and leapt backwards, out of range of the powerful Tier 6 Spirit Beast. Suji, on the other hand, wore an unwilling expression. However, even he knew that it wasn’t the time nor place to be nitpicking. His Purple Dragon Crescent Blade sparked into life with coils of purple lightning giving rise to a draconic roar that could only be heard by the clap of the heavens.

“Elrin! Boost us!” Shin yelled. There was no time for elaborate explanations, so the youth showed his intent through his actions. Gallons of mana-imbued water were being generated by Shin, creating a flash flood within the compounds of the chamber. Shin licked his lips while he felt the effects of Sacramental Boost rejuvenate his weakened body. Isadore felt the same. However, Elrin had gone one step further by giving him ‘False Armament’ as well. The already agile boy had turned more nimble than a cat, speeding through the upper body of the Minotaur as if he were a roach that could never be brushed off.

Likewise, Shin got to work with the lower part of the Tier 6 Spirit Beast. Tens of water tendrils emerged from the Arcane River that Shin had cast, attempting to bind the Minotaur in its place. At the same time, two rapidly spinning whirlpools sealed the beast’s movements like a bear trap, giving the two spearmasters a little time to play around while Suji and Natasha readied their ultimate moves.

Rapid movements and excellent spearmanship sliced through the thick flesh and the hide of the Spirit Beast, splashing crimson blood all about the chilling cold floor. Shin chuckled internally. Looks like the high-tiered Umbras weren’t just a chunk of cold dark mana like the weaker ones that Shin fought earlier on. Fortunately for them, it meant that the Payirci had a limited supply of Tier 6 Spirit Beasts and above, limiting the Paradise Heart’s capability to create any more of them.

The Minotaur roared. Rather than being bound, the Spirit Beast was pissed off. He kicked the restraints that sealed his movements in one fell swoop and strengthened itself using more darkness mana that was being released by the Paradise Heart. Shin knew that Isadore’s quick attacks weren’t enough to curb the anger that the Minotaur had, so he willed for twenty-three water pillars to enclose the Spirit Beast.

‘Shape-Style Technique, Cage of Sorrows!’ Shin declared while hundreds of water tendrils sped out from the pillars and slapped the Minotaur on its face. Isadore used Shin’s created water as platforms to launch himself in haphazard directions. The Umbra continued to bellow out in anger, swinging its one-handed axe around like a maniac, hoping to land even one hit on the pesky silver-haired ant that spun wildly around him.

Isadore smiled. His movements weren’t sluggish in the slightest bit and in some areas, far surpassed that of Minotaur. Somersaulting like a circus acrobat, Isadore continued to taunt the Umbra while Shin viciously attacked the bottom half of the Minotaur. Though, their playful act wasn’t going to last for long.

OOOOORRRRRRRRYAHHHHH!!!

The Minotaur roared out once more, this time displacing all of its mana into its voice. The Cage of Sorrows enveloping the Spirit Beast was instantly destroyed, giving Isadore next to no place to stand on. Before the young man could react, the flying knee of the Umbra had already reached just three metres away from Isadore. Knowing that there was nothing that he could do, Isadore spun his spear around to hopefully block the impact using his shaft, but he knew that the impact by the Tier 6 Spirit Beast would break his bones.

SWOOOOSHHH!!!

Fortunately for him, before the knee of the Minotaur broke through his defences, a leafy vine encircled the youth at his waist, pulling him far away from the skies and into the safety of the verdant roots that had covered the concrete ground.

“Thanks, Shizen! You saved me!” Isadore declared his gratitude.

“No problem! We’re almost done with the Shudras and Umbras on our side anyway.” Shizen replied, slightly arching his head in the opposite direction. Danroy, Ella and Emma lived up to their names as prodigies of Imperius Academy by bringing down as many foes as they possibly could, given the limited time that they had.

Bodies of fallen Umbras disappeared while Shudras struggled to stand after the whippings that the youngsters had given them. Of course, the main reason why the Black Masks were fighting a losing battle was due to the impact that the Freak of the Dundlewoods and the Heiress of the Zedcris Conglomerate had. Their supportive abilities, especially Shizen’s ability to control the battlefield using his Adivinar Tree’s mana-draining vines, continued to deplete the forces of the Black Masks, and at the same time, ensure the safety of his comrades. Not to mention, Danroy had the defensive capabilities rivalling that of a seasoned shield-bearing Paladin Tank and managed to defend against hundreds of attacks that flowed their way.

“Suji! Natasha! Are you done?!” Shin barked out. They needed to attack the Paradise Heart and to do it quickly before the Minotaur regained its bearings.

“YES!!!” Both of them screamed back, their Spirit glowing with massive amounts of mana, ready to launch at any given time.

“Go now! I’ll blind the Minotaur!” Shin was now facing the Tier 6 Spirit Beast alone. However, he didn’t give in. Instead, he brought out everything that he had. Hundreds of water spears, thousands of water bubbles and millions of arcane raindrops, all to displace the Minotaur for a few added seconds.

Against other Spirit Adepts and perhaps a small minority of Spirit Spectres, Shin’s attacks may have some effect. However, against the Tier 6 Minotaur whose might be equal to that of the Instructor’s, Shin couldn’t even pierce through its hide. The water spears he created faded into oblivion and his strongest water-created attack, Meteor Shower, was nothing more than raindrops to the Minotaur. Shin was unfazed. He leapt up into the air, forcing the Tier 6 Spirit Beast’s eyes to focus straight at him. Learning from the deceased Craig, Shin coated the Spear of Aiglos with spiralling water. Holding his favoured Spear like a javelin, the Prince of Water aimed right between the two blackened pupils that the Minotaur had, hoping that it was a weak point that he could exploit.

PPPPSSSTTTTT!!!

There wasn’t any yelping or moans like Shin anticipated. Instead, the Minotaur remained utterly intact, unstained by even the slightest of blemishes. His attack was useless. Physically that is. Though, it had already served its purpose.

BZZZZTTTTT!!!

Suji and Natasha took advantage of the brief moment that the Minotaur looked away to throw everything that they had accumulated for the past few seconds, straight at the Paradise Heart. A luminous crescent charged out from Natasha’s Starlight Blade, and Suji launched a tremendous concentrated beam of lightning. Both attacks were the best that the two Spirit Adepts could accomplish and were nearly as lethal as Kanari’s own Lunar Beam.

‘Hit it!’ Shin thought, his fingers trembling in anticipation. They needed to destroy the Paradise Heart if they wanted any hope of escaping from the chambers.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!

A loud clamour, one not inferior to that of a thunderstorm, stunned the inhabitants of the chamber, forcing them to stop their fighting. Thick dust and smoke gushed out from the top of the obsidian throne, keeping the Paradise Heart out of sight at all times. It was somewhat jarring, having to wait for the dust to settle before the young heroes could get their answer. However, after a few seconds, the group got their revelation…

Instead of witnessing the shattered shards of the Paradise Heart, all they saw was a dense force field, one that defied all common sense, blocking the prized nucleus of the Payirci. At its centre, a two-metre-long hiltless odachi and a glittering jewel shone brightly. And finally, a viridian-haired young man stood in silence, basking in the limelight and the gasps that were being issued out by the youngsters.

“Junius?” Shin jolted. He turned back and saw Kanari flying straight at him with a deep frown. Evidently, she was pissed off that Junius had taken off just like that.

“You alright?” Shin asked the young maiden.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Kanari nodded. “Sorry, I wasn’t able to hold him back. He just disappeared from my vision. I wasn’t able to track him.”

“No, all that matters is that you’re safe.” Shin comforted Kanari by stroking her head twice. Though he didn’t do it for long. There was still a menace that had to be taken care of.

“You guys are quite the annoying bunch.” Junius declared within his barrier. “I look away for just one second, and you kill my two subordinates and attempt to take out the Paradise Heart. I really can’t catch a break.”

“Hmph! If you had the balls, you’d face us without hiding behind that barrier!” Natasha hollered back, her Starlight Katana continuously swinging in the air.

“Oh, I have every intention to.” The Vaishya snorted. He spun his odachi around once and sent a tremendous amount of mana into its jewel. Piercing the blade through the top of the throne, Junius allowed the Paradise Heart to be enveloped by the protection of the barrier, all while a small hole enabled him to walk out unobstructed.

Closing his eyes, Junius raised his right hand into the air. Darkness congregated within the palms of his outreached hand, creating a thin obsidian hiltless katana. An ominous dark aura pulsated out of the blade while Junius himself seemingly grew more powerful. For the first time since the parted six years ago, Shin was laying his eyes on his elder brother’s Spirit once more.

Junius’s smug expression was replaced with burning fury. Junius had been playing nice and had even toyed with the idea of giving the youngsters salvation lest Shin hates when he drags the Awter Clan heir back. However, all of that had been thrown out of the window. Junius was now no longer the kind elder brother that thought of the wellbeing of Shin.

Junius was now…

The Blade of Death.