Himmel Empire. The Capital. Lady Seph’s abode.
The skies were blue, and the air was fresh in the tranquil Capital. When the news of the Land of Dreams massacre came to the ears of the citizens in the Capital, a nervous panic ensued. The Land of Dreams wasn’t that far away from the Capital, and many residents considered abandoning their homes for a safer location down south.
It took the Imperial Guards and the First Army a great deal of effort to calm the uneasiness in the air, bringing the Capital back to its normal state. By now, the war against the Black Masks was already two weeks in and each day, a new article reporting the victory of the Second Army would be published, restoring faith in the restless citizens’ minds.
So what if the Black Masks had four Tier 9 Spirit Beasts? The Himmel Empire boasted one of the most potent military force the world has ever seen. Not to mention, there was a plethora of Rank 80 Spirit Venerates participating in the expedition, including the infamous Lady Seph, who could consistently heal any injured soldier within seconds.
While the entire world was still revolving, a certain black-haired boy remained stationary in his own room. After returning home on Bingbing’s back, Shin had locked himself up in self-punishment. Reflecting on many of his actions back in the Land of Dreams, he could only describe himself in one word… He was a brat.
Not only did he push others to do his bidding, but he had also endangered the lives of his precious friends, all in the pursuit of nabbing Junius. Additionally, Shin thought that he was high and mighty as he believed that he was the only person with information about the Black Masks when the Himmel Empire evidently had its sources.
Finally… Shin felt his blood run cold as he thought of the most disgusting thing he did in the Land of Dreams. He had caused the lives of two people to be void…
And for what cause? Just because he wanted to bring Junius to justice? Just because he wanted to take down the Black Masks for everything that they had done to him and Ariel?
“I want to kill myself…” Shin hugged his knees and thought out loud. The bedding below him was hot while the food that Elyse had prepared for him had gone cold.
Lady Seph had only barred Shin from leaving her mansion for a week, and the full-time student was expected to return to class a few days ago. However, due to his unstable frame of mind, Shin had opted not to hurry back to school. Instead, he had been spending his days brooding to himself. Of course, that was great news for the snowy white gerbil that wished to stock up on her Shin reserves, but even Bingbing got worried after seeing Shin cooped up in one corner for hours on end.
Digging her nose deeper into Shin’s lap, Bingbing did her best to cheer the boy up. Giving a rare smile, Shin scratched on the gerbil’s head, causing it to purr in comfort. “Are you trying to cheer me up?”
“I know, I know… I have been quite moody these past few days…” Shin sighed and threw his back down on his bed. “I just… Don’t know what I’m doing anymore…”
Shin was lost. His vision for the future was a driven one, where his organisation would chase justice for those who were wronged by the Black Masks. Shin wanted to create a world where tragedies like Aldrich Keep and Frie Mountain wouldn’t be repeated. Yet, when he chose to chase justice, he had taken away two lives.
How heavy was a person’s life? Shin didn’t know.
All of Star Face and Cyphia’s acquaintances, friends and family would never know how they passed. Even if they did, they would never be able to get their loved ones back. Just because of Shin’s stubbornness to gain the truth, he had caused others to suffer. Was it truly worth it?
“Yip yip yip…” Not knowing how to console the young man, the only thing that she could do was stay by Shin’s side to ensure that he didn’t do anything rash. Of course, the snowy white gerbil wasn’t the only one who was worried about the youth.
“Lia… Shin didn’t come out from his room today?” Ryner, who had just came back from his hunt, put down his gear and questioned the homemaker. “Looks like he’s getting worse…”
“Yeah…” Lia scratched her supple cheeks with a frown. Now that she was seventeen-years-old, Lia had long reached the peak of her growth. She wasn’t a divine beauty like Lady Seph, or Kanari was, but she could still hold her head up high whenever she did her grocery shopping. Her friendly demeanour and easy-to-approach expression made her a popular girl within her district.
Even though she wasn’t that capable in combat, her cultivation progressed smoothly alongside her homemaking skills. Using her Cyan Hyacinth to aid in her cooking, cleaning and the overall management of the mansion, Lia was now an indispensable part of Lady Seph’s abode. In fact, the esteemed Spirit Venerate had even begun teaching her how to manage her own finances as well as micro-managing every detail of the house.
Furthermore, homemaking wasn’t the only talent that Lia had. Almost all of the orphans opened their hearts to her, and she would often give spectacular advice. Even Ryner and Jacob, who were ordinarily distant to the rest of the orphans, pour their hearts out as they sought for advice. All in all, Lia had become the central figurehead of the orphans, the glue that stuck them all together to be precise.
However, even the wise grandmother side of her was hopeless to deal with Shin’s situation.
“He’s still not telling you what happened in the Land of Dreams?”
Lia pivoted her head left and right in denial. “No… I have my guesses, but for the large part, I’m kept in the dark. Isadore and Elrin had visited many times, but whenever they conversed, I wasn’t allowed in.”
“Whatever happened there, must be big… I had never seen Shin this way since Ariel’s death.” Ryner’s eyes flashed with concern. As the eldest of the bunch, Ryner felt worthless as he always seemed to rely on Shin. Back on Frie Mountain, when Junius and Lily were still with them, Ryner could act as a lone wolf since those two siblings of his were so reliable. However, now that they were gone, Ryner felt that he should be the one to step up and fill their shoes.
Unfortunately, Ryner wasn’t able to give the value that Shin was able to. Not only did Shin bring the orphans out of the dangerous Frie Mountain, but he had also even provided them with free lodging and protection. Additionally, Shin also went out of his way to allow the orphans to live a life of relative freedom.
Ryner was able to choose the life of a hunter. Max was flourishing as a rookie store clerk and was able to land an apprenticeship with the boss of his company. Elyse and Fionn had sharpened their blades and were ready to take the entrance exam for Imperius Academy soon while the youngest of the bunch, Jacob, had studied hard enough to enter a prestigious institution that focused on the development of science.
If not for Shin’s connection to Lady Seph, as well as his insistence for the orphans to live uncaged lives, all of their choices wouldn’t have been possible. Hence, when Shin had returned home depressed, every single orphan was dedicated to being there to support him.
“Yeah… No, it might be even worse.” Lia added on. “When Ariel died, at least he had the drive to keep training. Now, he doesn’t even move out of his room. What in the world happened in the Land of Dreams?”
The more that Lia thought about it, the more questions she had. Throughout the two weeks of Shin’s return, she had been asking around. However, Isadore and Elrin were both tight-lipped while Lady Seph wasn’t even home. Lia had even tried to ask Bingbing even though she wasn’t fluent in the language of yip. Also, since Shin was that emotional, she didn’t want to excessively pester him. Thus, she was at an impasse.
“Sister Lia! Sister Lia! Kanari has arrived!”
Fortunately, Lia’s saviour was just around the corner. Running down the hallway, Fionn quickly informed the arrival of one of Shin’s best friends in the academy. Being a member of the Highgarden Duchy, the amount of intelligence that the black-haired beauty had easily trumped anything that the orphans could possibly fathom. If there were someone that could give them a rough idea of what happened to Shin, it would be Kanari.
“Where is she?”
“Elyse is bringing her in. She wants to meet with Shin.”
‘As expected, she knows something.’ Lia bit down on her fingernails and got off her chair. “Let me meet her first. I want to ask her a few questions.”
“And what would that be?” Before Fionn could rush over to the entrance, a melodious voice entered the Main Hall where the orphans were having their own discussions. A ruby-eyed young enchantress, who was accompanied by a black-robed female butler, came forward with a radiant smile on her face, sending shivers down the orphans’ spines.
‘No matter how many times I see her, I cease to get impressed.’ Lia sighed mentally. Being a female of a similar age, Lia felt inferior whenever she looked at the gorgeous young girl. Her face was divine, and her proportions were so perfect that it was borderline unfair. Additionally, she was the heir of the affluent Highgarden Duchy and was widely considered to be the most talented cultivator of her generation.
Lia was no slob, but if she compared herself to Kanari, she might as well be one. Kanari was God’s favoured child, and possibly no girl could possibly hope to compare to her. In any normal circumstance, Lia wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk face-to-face with such a superstar. However, thankfully there was a rising star within their midst that allowed her to do just that.
“Kanari, I’ll cut to the chase. Do you know what happened to Shin?” Lia calmed her nerves and shot a direct question at Kanari.
“Hmmm? You don’t know?” Kanari was genuinely shocked by Lia’s question. She assumed that the first people that Shin would confide in was the orphans, due to their long history with one another.
“No… He’s been locking himself up in his room for the past two weeks. He hasn’t told us anything.” Although Kanari didn’t mean to sound condescending, to Lia it surely felt that way. “Please Kanari, could you tell us?”
“…” The young girl placed her index finger on her chin and pondered if she should open her mouth. However, eventually, Kanari gave up and regrettably shook her head. “I’m sorry, it’s not my story to tell. Let me meet with Shin. Maybe I can get him to come to his senses.”
If Shin didn’t tell the orphans about the ordeal in the Land of Dreams, then neither should Kanari. Hearing the ethereal beauty’s words, Lia dropped her head in shame. She wanted to help Shin in with every means that she had, but now, she had to rely on an outsider’s help.
“Okay…” With a face full of reluctance, Lia brought the girl and her butler towards the isolated room. Gesturing for her attendant to stay outside, Kanari prepared herself to face the downcast friend of hers.
“Please, help him get on his feet.” Lia tapped Kanari’s shoulders with a face full of concern. Shin had never been in such a predicament in his life. Even though Lia didn’t know the exact details, she knew that it must have been a serious incident. “He can’t stay like this forever…”
“…” Kanari was impressed by the bonds that the orphans shared. Even without knowing what happened, Lia, Ryner, Elyse and Fionn were committed to staying by the boy’s side. If Max and Jacob were here, they would have felt the same way as well.
“I’ll try my best.”