The fiery red ball in the sky soon disappeared into the horizon as darkness descended upon the heavenly flying fortress. Bits of celestial sparkles glistened on the land, bringing divine light to the dull world that was enveloped by the dark. At such a late hour, most civilians would have tucked themselves to sleep in preparation for the day ahead. Fortunately, for those who were inhabiting Deus Citadel, gleaming city lights filled the sparkling streets of the fortress allowing the city to seem as bright as it was in the day.
After arriving at Deus Citadel, the Himmel Empire’s procession was escorted to their temporary lodgings at the inner region of the city. Through their guide, Gabul, Shin found out that Deus Citadel was not only the world’s only flying fortress, but it was also one of the Blacksmith’s League greatest forges! Whenever it was not flying around as a military base, the fort would be parked in a hidden location where the top engineers and blacksmiths would congregate and plan out future masterpieces.
Deus Citadel was split into three major regions, each with its own unique function. The outskirts of the fortress were primarily used for defence. Cannons, Spirit Armaments, Combat Golems, tamed Spirit Beast and ferocious guards were all centred around this area. When Shin first heard of all the defence mechanisms that had been put into play, his jaw dropped in complete shock. Over-excessive wasn’t even a sufficient term to describe the layer upon layer of defences that Deus Citadel possessed. Based on Gabul’s explanation, even a Spirit Saint using their all would be unsuccessful in infiltrating the famed fortress.
Moving deeper into the Citadel, the inner region was a place of opulence and luxury. Most members of the Blacksmith’s League that had access to Deus Citadel were high up in the brass. Taking care of their most prized affiliates was an imperative task for the Blacksmith’s League, and thus, they went above and beyond to make the inner regions as comfortable as humanly possible.
Of course, extravagance wasn’t the only function that the inner regions had. It also serves as a vault for some of the Blacksmith’s League’s best inventions. Fortunately for those attending the Summit, many prized possessions were open for sale, in commemoration of the historical event. Like a puppy that lusted for its mother’s milk, Elrin drooled while she readied her premium purchasing card that was issued to everyone. If not for the welcome banquet that was being held straight after they arrived, she would have rushed down to the shops and bought clean everything.
“Hah… As much as I hate to move away from a social function, couldn’t they have at least opened one shop here?” Elrin placed both her hands down on the white laced bar stand and sighed with sorrow.
“Can’t you just wait for a day?” Shin wore an incredulous expression as he chided the young white-haired girl.
“You don’t understand, Shin! A sale from the Blacksmith’s League is on a whole other level! Unique-grade Spirit Armaments are the lowest quality! I’ve even heard rumours that they’re going to sell over fifty mythic-grade items, and to satisfy the Spirit Saints, three immortal-grade Spirit Armaments are going to be sold! Where on earth will you ever find someone who is going to sell an immortal-grade Spirit Armament?!”
At Elrin’s outburst, Shin took a step back with his hands up high in the air. “I get it, I get it.”
While he understood why Elrin was so attached to the idea of buying as many quality Spirit Armaments as she possibly could, Shin just wasn’t as emotionally attached. He had only limited himself to ten gold ingots to spend throughout the duration of the Summit, which was barely enough to purchase one unique-grade Spirit Armament. Compared to Elrin, who had a bottomless amount of cash, Shin just couldn’t find the excitement to participate in the hardcore shopping.
Shin’s true mission lay elsewhere…
“Where are the members of the Lantis Republic?” Shin wondered out loud.
Almost directly after the Himmel Empire’s procession settled down in their own rooms, they were called to attend the welcome banquet that the Blacksmith’s League has thrown in honour of the Summit. Donned in their High Society attire, Shin’s group entered the gorgeous ballroom that seemed large enough for a thousand men and women to dance freely in.
Shin wore a full black tuxedo with an inner white shirt and a cute little bowtie, his standard garments for any fancy functions that he was called to. On the other hand, Elrin had put on her floral Maxi Dress. Although she was already sixteen, her short stature and baby face had often caused confusion with many who met her. However, instead of feeling down about that fact, Elrin decided to use her child-like appearance to her advantage. With her Maxi Dress on, Elrin seemed to have aged back two years, which would work in her favour when socialising with older men.
Nine out of ten times, the men would underestimate Elrin and allow her to get away with much more than a normal woman. Sometimes, she could even cut the price of the item she desired to purchase by half, just through the magic of her looks.
“I don’t know… So far I only met those from the Mercenary Guild and Blacksmith’s League. Look! One of them even gave me a discount coupon for their store!”
“… How the hell did you do that? The banquet hasn’t even begun…”
“Hehe! Skills!” Holding up a victory sign, Elrin’s sorrowful face instantly brightened up.
“Whatever…” Shin could only marvel at how capable his dear friend was at socialising. “By the way, where’s Kanari, Emma and Ella? Didn’t you come from the same hallway?”
“It looked like Emma and Ella had problems getting into their dresses. So Kanari stayed to help them. What about you? What happened to Shizen?”
“What do you think?” Recalling the young boy that collapsed straight on his bed and refused to join them during the banquet, Shin let out a bitter smile. “We lost him early. All of that travelling had tired him out. Also, he firmly resisted the notion of wearing a tuxedo. Says it’s too constricting.”
“That sounds about right.” Elrin adorably giggled. “Oh, speak of the devil! Look, there they are!”
Following Elrin’s pointed finger, Shin saw a horde of young men gathering around three youthful ladies. Two of them bore the exact same features, bar the small mole on the face of the short-haired girl. Nonetheless, since this was a social event, the two decided to wear different coloured dresses to help others differentiate them. Emma wore a bright green wrap dress while Ella put on a pale blue spaghetti-strap gown.
While their intentions were innocent, the huge contrast between the two girls had thrust them into the centre of attention. Emma’s virtuous charm was highlighted as she nervously brushed her hair. Nonetheless, Emma still did her best to smile to the crowd, making her look like an angel that was displaced from the heavens.
On the flip side, Ella’s tied up hair and spaghetti-strap dress allowed her slender neck to come into full view. Almost always scowling, the young men that surrounded her felt their hearts being constricted by a foreign force as a certain feeling awakened within them. If Ella were to explode in anger, they would most definitely fall to the ground in satisfaction and beg her to continue humiliating them.
And of course, who could forget the diamond among the jewels? The flower that stood heads and shoulders above the lowly vines of the garden.
“Wow…” Shin nearly whistled at the spectacular sight of his bosom friend walking down the aisle, surrounded by the dozens of men that followed her.
Putting on a white Sleeveless Flare Dress that stretched all the way to her knees, Kanari’s attire was considered to be on the conservative side. Yet, there was no denying that she was the magnet that attracted all the eyes in the room. Her jet black hair that was free of any lumps flowed down to her hourglass waist, and her ruby-coloured eyes sparkled in the bright yellow lights of the ballroom.
“Please excuse us.” Noticing that Shin and Elrin were staring in her direction, Kanari immediately bowed down to the bunch of young males that surrounded her and pulled the twins away. “Sorry for the delay. We were caught up in the crowd.”
“No, it’s fine.” Shin shook his head with sympathy.
‘It must be hard living Kanari’s life… I can’t imagine getting scrutinised to that degree!’
“This dress is really uncomfortable…” Ella complained as she adjusted the tight fit around her bosom. It was her first time in a cocktail dress, and she wasn’t accustomed to its measurements. Being an archer that needed to move at an accelerated pace, Ella was used to flexible attire.
“Hehe, it takes some getting used to.” Emma wasn’t that comfortable either.
“If you had an appropriate tailor, any dress could be made cosy.” A jovial voice broke into the conversation uninvited, forcing Shin and the rest to abruptly turn their heads. From just a few metres away, a suave blonde young man sauntered forward with a glass of champagne in his hands. Behind him, two similarly alluring young women and one particularly valiant-looking young man followed his lead and smiled at the group.
“Senior Eikyo… Is something the matter?” Kanari forced herself to put a happy face as she observed the Young Drake Duke.
“Kanari, there’s no need to be that tense.” Eikyo took one glass from a nearby table and offered it to the ethereal beauty. “You’re turning sixteen this year right? Take this drink. It’ll loosen you up.”
“Thanks for your offer, but I’m good.” Kanari did her best not to burst out in rage at how Eikyo talked down to her. Offering her a drink? It sounded more like he was demeaning her for just barely turning old enough to consume alcohol.
“That’s a shame… This champagne is quite the delight. The Blacksmith’s League really knows how to choose their drinks.” Eikyo’s eyebrows dropped as he got turned down by Kanari. However, almost instantly, his expression returned back to normal and he lifted the glass towards the boy standing next to her. “How about you, Shin Iofiel? You’ve already turned down my invitation once, I’m sure you could take this drink?”
Now that the focus was on him, Shin was suddenly put on the spot. Eikyo and Kanari both stared at him. One with a neutral expression and the other with a ‘you better don’t betray me’ face. Shrugging his shoulders, Shin went with the safest answer that he could come up with.
“It’s not my birthday yet, so I’m still underage.”
“…” Eikyo’s outreached hand jolted. After a moment of silence, the Young Drake Duke finally broke out in laughter.
“HAHAHA!!! Underage, you say! Spectacular answer!” Eikyo laughed so hard that tears started to form in the corners of his eyes. “Now you make me want you more and more.”
“…” It wasn’t just Shin who couldn’t find the words to rebut, even Kanari didn’t know what to say to the boisterous young man.
“Shin Iofiel, one day you will see. The best option for you to achieve your dreams is through my Duchy!” Seeing that Kanari’s facial expression had turned red and her teeth were beginning to grind, Eikyo decided to retreat for now. However, before he left, he gave Shin one yellow piece of parchment.
“Here, go to this tailor and get a few dresses for the Twin Fairies of the Hail. That one’s on me.” Eikyo waved goodbye and returned back to socialising on his own turf.
“He actually had the nerve to approach you right under my nose…” Kanari clenched her fists in anger until her knuckles turned white. Even though the two had been competing ever since Kanari first introduced herself into High Society, Eikyo had never taken such a brazen approach before.
“Don’t worry, Kanari. I won’t join him.” Shin comforted the young girl who was just about to burst into flames. “Even if I were to join an organisation, it would be yours.”
“Hah… I know. It’s just frustrating that’s all.” At Shin’s words, Kanari’s mental state cooled down a little. She had already lost a friend to that bastard who kept poaching talents relentlessly. If Kanari had lost Shin to him as well, she would have entered into a mental breakdown.
Thump Thump Thump
More and more people piled into the ballroom, and soon almost all of the tables were filled. Himmel Empire, Kori Federation, Lantis Republic, Mercenary Guild, Healer’s Association, and the Blacksmith’s League. All of the quintessential figures, young and old, attending the Summit had congregated into one spot, marking the beginning of the welcome banquet.
“Ladies and gentlemen. If you may all take your seats.” When the crowd had finally settled down, a lanky, well-shaved man came onto the stage and amplified his voice with his mana.
Shin may not be well-versed with the faces of all the important figures attending the Summit, but even he recognised the matured man that had biceps the size of his face. In fact, who wouldn’t when a picture of his face was plastered all over Deus Citadel, with his title engraved firmly at the bottom of each frame.
‘The President of the Blacksmith’s League, Ingram Ragnar.’ Shin thought out as the man continued to address the crowd.
“Today marks an important day in the world’s history. All six forces that make the earth spin round have set aside their differences and gathered together for the first time. Never before in human history had this alliance been made! However, never before has the world seen evil like the Black Masks!” Ingram raised his hands in the air like a theatre actor.
“The massacre of the Land of Dreams will never be forgotten! Those that had perished will never be forgotten!” Ramping up his speech, Ingram’s face turned crimson as his voice was raised by three octaves. “My fellow brothers and sisters! As the first day of the negotiations begins, I implore you to remember the thousands of innocents that perished to the evil monsters. I implore you to remember the millions of lives that had been affected by the Black Masks, and I implore you to remember the true significance of this day. The day where differences were put aside to fight for the greater good! Behold!”
On Ingram’s cue, an energy beam shot out from the sole skyscraper of Deus Citadel and turned into a pale blue barrier that enveloped the entire flying fortress. Since they were informed of this phenomenon ahead of time, no one in the ballroom panicked as much. They did, however, admired the beauty of the advanced technology that Deus Citadel boasted.
“Ladies and gentlemen… Welcome to the Summit.”