The sky darkened on the fabled Land of Dreams, bringing a close to the hustle and bustle of their cities, and allowing its residents to have a long deep rest. Being further up in the north, the Land of Dreams had a cold and relaxing night, making it the ideal place for a pleasant, snug slumber. Unfortunately, while the others were happily tucked in, Shin and Fred were standing still right in front of the auxiliary department’s head office, awaiting his punishment.
“Honestly, if you could just let me breathe for one minute, that would be nice…” Madam Warulee had her face on her palm as she haplessly looked at the two individuals she had called in, particularly the black-haired one.
She had just resolved an incident involving Shin and was glad that the whole episode was over. However, before she could even get a moment’s rest, the youth started a fight that resulted in total devastation of a training area. It was as if Shin’s speciality wasn’t being a healer or a genius student, but a troublemaker that had no equal.
“I’m sorry… It’s just.”
“No buts! I don’t care about any excuse you make. Do you know how much I have to do later on to quell the colonel’s inquiry?” Before Shin could even make his defence, Madam Warulee raised her hand in distress. “After your earlier actions, I don’t know how he’s going to react…”
Thinking back on it, Shin understood that he had gone too far. He shouldn’t have started a conflict right after he was grounded. Nonetheless, he was in a fit of rage, and being rational was the least priority of his. “What can I do to make this right?”
“Now you want to make amends?!” Madam Warulee raised her eyebrows. Showing remorse was a good thing, and she couldn’t fault someone who had realised that he had erred. “Honestly, if we were on Imperius Academy grounds, you would have been let off with a suspension. However, we’re with the military, and in the Land of Dreams to boot! Your punishment is dependent on the colonel’s discretion. Fred, your punishment is as well…”
“…” Fred remained silent. From the first instant that he stepped foot into the office, he had been as mute as a fish. It was as if he didn’t care about what would happen to him.
“Hah… Right now, I’ll mete out my own ‘punishment’ and try to intercede for you in front of the colonel. I hope that it would be enough. Otherwise…” Pessimistic about the chances that Shin and Fred had, Madam Warulee let out a melancholic sigh. “Pray to the Immortals above that the colonel is lenient.”
“I understand…” Shin hung his head down as he replied.
“For now, I order the both of you to clean up the mess you made. No sleeping until the entire training area is returned to the way it was before. That way, the colonel would get to how repentant you two are.” Madam Warulee planned for Shin and Fred to show their remorse through their actions. Naturally, their punishments wouldn’t be limited to just that, but it was a good bargaining chip to reduce their sentence. “Also, no more arguments between you two!!!”
“Yes, madam.” In the first place, Shin didn’t care at all about Fred. If not for his unstable frame of mind, he would have continued to ignore the fifth-year senior. With his mind now cleared, there was no way that he would instigate another bout with the lovestruck powerhouse.
“… I understand.”
“Good! Remember, no sleeping until the area is thoroughly cleaned up!” As she reminded the duo of their punishment once more, Madam Warulee hurriedly paid a visit to the colonel, leaving Shin and Fred to silently walk back to the scene of the crime.
An awkward silence descended upon the pair as they picked up shovels to clean the area. Never on speaking terms anyway, Shin had no idea of how to interact with Fred. While Shin held no blatant hostilities to Fred, the same couldn’t be said the other way round. Assuming that his pure and gorgeous Kanari had been corrupted by Shin’s charms, Fred always saw the youth as an enemy. Even before the brutal rejection back at the year-end tournaments, the fifth-year had a strong disdain for Shin, who regularly hung out with Kanari, despite being a member of the opposite gender.
‘Should I try to resolve our misunderstandings?’ Shin wondered as he finished cleaning one part of the training area. Based on Fred’s devoted character, he won’t stop harbouring a grudge against Shin just because Madam Warulee mandated it. If Shin wanted Fred to get off his back, he had to ensure that he changed Fred’s misconception about the nature of his relationship with Kanari.
“Senior… Could you spare a moment to talk?” Shin fired the first bullet.
“…” Continuously shovelling away, Fred didn’t even spare Shin a single glance. However, the black-haired youth remained undeterred.
“It’s about Kanari.”
“I have nothing to say to you over here. When we return to the academy, I’ll settle everything.”
‘What do you mean by settle?!’ Shin screamed inwardly. The grudge that Fred was more profound than he anticipated. If Shin left it unsettled, there was no doubt in his mind that his life would be in danger the moment they returned to the Himmel Empire.
“Hear me out, senior.” Shin desperately attempted to stay calm, but he was unable to stop the rapid twitching of his eyelids. “Kanari and I don’t have that kind of relationship. We are really just friends that study together.”
“…” For a moment there, Fred stopped his movements. However, he soon continued his clean-up duty, thoroughly ignoring Shin’s claim.
“I’m serious, senior!!! I don’t have any feelings for Kanari, and I doubt that she has any feelings for me!” Shin continued on his explanation. “The reason why we always hang out together is due to the mutual benefit that we get. I get to teach Kanari on some academic issues that she’s unclear about, and she advises me on how to proceed with my martial arts training or cultivation. That’s the full extent of our relationship.”
Of course, there was the issue that Kanari wanted to recruit Shin into the Highgarden Duchy, but Shin opted to leave that detail out.
“I don’t believe you.” For the first time since the earlier fight, Fred finally spoke his mind. “Kanari was always benevolent and compassionate. Even though she rejected me multiple times before, she had never done so in such a clear-cut method. Deep down, I know that she had an inkling of attraction towards me! If all went as planned, I would have her in my grasp within the few years I have with her in Imperius Academy!”
Hearing the fifth-year senior’s outburst, Shin finally comprehended the full extent of Fred’s delusion. Kanari had rejected Fred dozens of times, but the lovebird remained hopeful that things would change. He truly believed that his devotion would move Kanari into accepting his love so that they could live happily ever after.
Well, he couldn’t be entirely blamed for harbouring such thoughts. Each time Kanari rejected Fred, she had done so politely, and in a manner which suggests that she didn’t want to burn all the connections, she had with the youth. No matter how depraved Fred was, he was still considered a rising star in the Himmel Empire, which made Kanari hopeful that he would come to his senses and join the Highgarden Duchy without that ridiculous clause.
Bottling up her disgust for Fred, Kanari had almost always rejected the youth with a gorgeous smile that could bring the downfall of a nation, which caused the opposite effect of what she wanted. With each rejection, Fred’s love for the black-haired beauty grew. Her ruby eyes would haunt his dreams, and her perfect features were subject to his every fantasy. Instead of reflecting on his actions, Fred became more and more obsessed. If Kanari had given an explicit rejection from the start, perhaps Fred’s maniac desire would have been killed in its crib. Unfortunately, by the time she realised that fact, it was too late.
“Senior, I understand that you have deep feelings for Kanari. But if it’s not meant to be, why are you pushing so hard?” Shin finally said the words that no one dared to.
“What do you know about love?! My love for Kanari is as boundless as the sky, as luminescent as the moon! I would do anything for her! Even if it means taking my own life!” In a red-hot fervour, Fred began to rant. “She’s mine! Kanari’s mine! I know everything about her! Her favourite food, her favourite songs, how she loves to walk in the park, how often she smiles, the things she hates, the things he loves! Everything!!!”
Admitting that he had stalked the girl arduously, Fred continued on his rant, much to Shin’s dismay.
‘Kanari! You really need to increase your security!’ Shin got sidetracked as he worried about his friend’s personal safety.
“Love, huh?” Shin thought back on Fred’s words. What did he know about love? He had once had someone he held dear, but he didn’t dare to act on it until it was too late. Like Fred, he would do anything to see that freckled smile once more, even if it meant chasing the impossible and becoming the next Spirit Immortal of the world.
“Senior, let me tell you a story…”
“Hmmm?” His curiosity piqued, Fred halted his passionate rant.
“Before I came to the academy… Before I even decided to go on the path of the fighter… I had a childhood friend.” Shin’s facial expression froze as he recollected the early days on Fried Mountain. “We played together, trained together, and did almost everything together. She was violent, and always wore her heart on her sleeve. She was stubborn and unreasonable. Whenever she wanted something, she would be determined to obtain it, no matter what it cost her.”
“…” Sensing a shift in Shin’s demeanour, Fred frowned. The black-haired youth seemed so distant, so despondent… So small…
“We grew up happily. She wasn’t good with words, so she resorted to her fists. She wasn’t smart at all, but she was the wisest girl I had ever known. She had skeletons in her closet, but she always smiled as if she was fine.” Shin’s eyes started to mist as he recalled the time on the rooftop of the Mushinkei, where she told him everything about her parents, and how she wished to chase Yggdrasil to meet them once more.
“As we grew up, we found ourselves physically apart. Nonetheless, she always made an effort to find me. She always made sure that she was there when I fell. Even though she was kilometres away, I was always on her mind…”
Shin lamented the fact that he was so dense back then. He hated the fact that even though Ariel was there for her, he was never present for her. If he had a chance to do it over, Shin would undoubtedly be more proactive in his desires. He would never have allowed her to leave without making more beautiful memories with her. He would most definitely have made her happy throughout.
“When we lost, we grieved. When we won, we laughed. The days I had with her were the happiest and the saddest of my life. However, there was one thing that was constant… She was always there for me.” Unable to hold back anymore, a teardrop fell from his eyes. His voice trembling, Shin could barely make out the words he wanted to say. “When I am with her, my heart is full. No… My heart is full even without her by my side.”
“What happened to her?” Fred finally asked. He knew that it was a stupid question. Based on how emotional Shin was, it wasn’t hard to guess what had happened.
“Gone…” Shin took out a handkerchief and wiped his face. “Don’t you get it, Fred? My heart only had one space, for one girl… I can’t accommodate another. Even if the world’s most gorgeous women threw themselves at me, I only have eyes for one person.”
“I see…” Fred nodded. He finally understood why Shin was so adamant about his relationship with Kanari. He was a kindred spirit. No, in fact… “I misunderstood. You’re more devoted than me.”
At the very least, Fred was chasing someone that was currently alive. Shin was doing the impossible, chasing someone that had already passed.
“I wouldn’t put it that way, but yeah… I only care about one girl. I don’t care if she’s living or dead. I will see her again.”
“…” Fred kept silent for a full minute, digesting all of the new information that he obtained. With Shin’s heartfelt confession, Fred knew that he was telling the truth about Kanari. Their relationship was plainly for mutual benefits.
“Okay, I’ll believe you.”
While the duo was having a heart-to-heart talk, another pair was eavesdropping in on their conversation from a safe distance. Even though they were normally out of range to listen in, their superior cultivation levels enabled them to hear just fine.
“What do you think, Colonel?”
The military man was speechless. He had come with the intention of severely reprimanding and punishing the youths that dared to disobey his strict orders. However, after hearing Shin’s passionate speech, his bellowing rage mellowed down and was replaced with tender sympathy. He even understood why Shin was so boorish when he reported about Mort Bay. If Junius indeed murdered the person that he had loved so much, it was understandable for him to have such an adverse reaction.
“Do as you please… I won’t mete out the punishment.”
“Thank you, Colonel!” Seeing that she had managed to get Shin and Fred off the hook, Madam Warulee mentally celebrated. At the very least, the two won’t be subject to military punishments.
‘Shin Iofiel… You’re really something else.’ Colonel Tychris smiled. ‘Whatever, I’ll speed up the reporting for Mort Bay to the higher-ups… Hopefully, you will get a satisfactory answer within the coming days.’