The congregation of the Saints had set off supernova after supernova of rumours and whispers, bringing Deus Citadel to a complete standstill. Six Spirit Saints had gathered together at the Lantis Republic’s hotel, and a fight between the Saints nearly ensued. The Summit had to be prematurely stopped as all the nation’s representatives rushed to prevent all hell from breaking loose.
Fortunately, tragedy had been mostly avoided through preliminary negotiations, and the world began to slow down. Day turned to night and the first day of the Summit had ended with a controversial bang. As details of the Spirit Saints brawl surfaced, the hundreds of talents on Deus Citadel began to whisper a particular name.
“Who is this Shin? Why did the Saint of Time pick a fight with the Himmel Empire because of him?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
In a posh restaurant where some of the most scrumptious food was found, a group of young Kori Federation members were cutting on their lamb chops while stuffing their mouths with the most excellent wine the flying fortress could provide. Being just youngsters that accompanied the leaders of their factions, the boys and girls in the procession were just ornaments that had to look pretty until they were needed.
With all the free time in the world, the younger members had the luxury to shop and gossip all they could. Some had even made connections with those from the other superpowers. Naturally, many preferred to stay in the clique, such as the group chewing on their favourite lamb meat.
“Senior Lukman, what do you think?”
“…” A charming brown-skinned man dropped his fork and turned to the boy. “From what I understand, he’s just a Spirit Core practitioner right?”
The boy nodded. “That’s what the rumours say.”
“Then I have no interest in him.” The Luminary from the Tuareg Sect continued chowing down on his dinner as he lost all interest in the conversation. He was already a Rank 42 Spirit Spectre, and his objective for joining the Summit was to challenge other Spirit Spectres for supremacy. The matters of Himmel Empire and the Lantis Republic mattered little to him.
“Haha, Senior Lukman really is straightforward.”
“Instead of worrying about others, why don’t you try to better yourselves?” Lukman sneered. “All of you are in the later part of your twenties, and have yet to reach the Spirit Spectre realm.”
“Well, not all of us can compare to you Luminaries.” Another voice bitterly replied.
“That’s the mindset of weaklings.”
“Hmph! You talk a big game, Lukman.” The group from the Kori Federation consisted of a mixture of talents from the Master Sects. Lukman may be from the indomitable Tuareg Sect, but at the moment, he was the minority voice.
“Compared to that boy named Shin, you’re actually quite the inferior product. You belittle him as a Spirit Core practitioner, but did you know that he’s only sixteen? How old were you when you condensed your Spirit Core, huh?”
“Hoh… He’s sixteen?”
The brown-skinned man’s ears perked up in excitement. As a fighter who always sought a challenge, taking down a Spirit Core cultivator didn’t sound that appealing to him. However, if the person was a talent that managed to reach the Spirit Core stage when he was just sixteen, it was a different issue.
“Tell me more… About this Shin.”
The Land of Dreams. Deus Citadel. Himmel Empire’s Lodgings.
With the entire flying fortress swept up in utter chaos, the Himmel Empire representatives had turtled back into their own appointed rooms. They were at the centre of this whole conflict, and it was in their vested interest to lay low for the time being. That was especially true for the black-haired boy who was caught in the centre of this hurricane.
“Shin! Do you know how much of a commotion you had caused?!” Kanari paced back and forth in Shin and Shizen’s shared room. Veins popping and eyes twitching, the young beauty lost all of her elegance as her anger forced her to drop all forms of formalities.
“I… Didn’t think that it would cause that much of a stir.” Shin meekly replied.
“Y-You!” Kanari pointed her finger at the negative boy, before throwing it up in the air as she lost all hope. “No, you weren’t at fault… No one could have expected that the Saint of Time would have behaved in that manner.”
“It really is a shocker…” Elrin hopped on Shin’s bed and embraced a nearby pillow. “I’d always thought that Spirit Saints would be lofty beings that never intervene in anything related to us mortals. Yet, the Saint of Time had actually started a fight with Saint Firebird just for your sake.”
“For the record, I never intended to meet the Saint of Time.” Shin recollected his experience with Longyu Tian, only to feel a cold shiver run down his spine. “I only wanted to meet a Luminary.”
“You went fishing for a guppy, but ended up with a shark.” Elrin kicked flutter kicked on the bed with a wry smile. “If only I had your luck.”
“Yeah, yeah.” The white-haired girl shrugged her shoulders as she got chided by Kanari.
“Did Saint Firebird say anything to you?” Shin cautiously asked.
Shin had undermined the Spirit Saint’s authority when he said he wanted to get baptised by the Celestial River. If Saint Firebird had held a grudge, it would take Shin a thousand cleansings to get back in the elderly man’s good books.
“I haven’t met him…” Kanari shook her head grimly. Based on Shin’s account, the Spirit Saint was seriously deliberating on whether he should facilitate a trade between the Himmel Empire and the Lantis Republic according to Longyu Tian’s terms.
“If it goes through… If Saint Firebird really accepts the deal made by the Saint of Time… Shin would have to move to the Lantis Republic right?” Shizen, who had remained silent the entire time, finally raised his thoughts. His brilliantly coloured pupils dilated as he hugged his knees closer to his chest. “Shin, must you go?”
“…” For a moment there, Shin didn’t know how to respond.
Shin fell back on his chair and heaved out a despondent sigh. He had no idea about what was going to happen from now. The past twenty-four hours had flashed by as if it were a fleeting memory. Shin came to the Summit hoping to get a chance at baptism, but he hasn’t considered the repercussions of his actions. Could he really abandon the Himmel Empire for the Lantis Republic?
“I… Have to go.” Shin swallowed a mouthful of saliva. “Not only for the baptism, but the Lantis Republic is the home for everything related to the Sovereign Koi. How to cultivate. How to improve my combat ability. How to… Become stronger. If I really want to fight the Black Masks, going to the Lantis Republic is the fastest way.”
“But I don’t want you to go.” Shizen held back his tears.
“Don’t be like that…” Shin moved over to the nature boy and embraced him. “It’s not like I’ll be gone for good. Also, nothing is confirmed yet.”
“Shin…” Kanari smiled miserly. She wanted to beg him to reconsider. She would do anything to get him to stay. Looking at his face of uncertainty, Kanari knew that just a few words could shake the foundations of his decision. However, she couldn’t bring herself to say the words.
‘I can’t be selfish… Shin’s ultimate goal was never to join me. He never once showed the desire to stay loyal to the Himmel Empire. The only thing that drives him is…’
Kanari felt envious. Envious of the orphans. Envious of the shadow of an elder brother that he kept chasing, and… Envious of the girl that motivated him to take one step further. To Shin, Kanari was perhaps a good friend that he would turn to in terms of need and vice versa. However, compared to the ones who shaped his life and dreams, she was still just a forgettable face among the crowd.
‘What should I do?’
‘What should I do?’ Lady Seph was biting her nails as her mind raced at a thousand miles an hour. While the youngsters had their respective gatherings, the older generation had similarly crowded into one room for a late-night conference.
The subject? What else but the young boy who had caused a stir in the Citadel?
“That’s the gist of the Saint of Time’s proposal…” Saint Firebird raised his teacup as he finished relaying the Lantis Republic’s stance onto the representatives gathered in his room.
“If we hand over Shin, they will comply to our every demand? That sounds too far-fetched don’t you think?” Gonggong pinched his nose as he cried foul play.
“It’s the truth. Honestly, I found it hard to believe at first, but the Saint of Time isn’t one to tell a lie.”
“It really sounds too good to be true.” Prince Koshaku rubbed the temples of his forehead. He recalled the earlier negotiations where Zhangyu Yaoguai struck down all of the Himmel Empire’s requests. As they anticipated, the Lantis Republic was the steepest hurdle to cross, and with that infamous Zhangyu Clan head leading the talks, Prince Koshaku had basically written them off entirely.
“What’s so special about Shin?” Ridan Bitterdawn was confused. There has never been an instance where a Spirit Saint would enter politics just to claim a Spirit Core cultivator for their own.
“I believe Venerate Seraphim would have a better insight.”
Saint Firebird turned to the only person in the room that knew Shin personally and the key to unravelling the mystery of Longyu Tian’s actions.
“Saint Firebird, before I give you an answer. Have you made up your mind about the deal?”
“… It is a particularly lucrative offer.” The elderly man didn’t confirm nor deny his intentions. At face value, there was nothing but benefits for the Empire. If they handed Shin over to the Lantis Republic, they would gain the full force of another superpower’s military, which would drastically reduce the potential casualties on their side.
“Then let me tell you this. No matter what you do, the Himmel Empire must never release their hold on Shin.”
“Are you letting your feelings decide what’s best for the Empire?!” A junior minister raised his voice. Everyone knew that Lady Seph held a significant degree of affection for her beloved disciple.
“Partly.” The blonde woman admitted her bias. “But that’s not all. I was the one who sent Shin to befriend those from the Lantis Republic.”
“So why are you against the Lantis Republic claiming Shin?”
“Because it’s suspicious that Longyu Tian had personally moved for the sake of Shin.” Lady Seph frowned. “I had sent Shin to the Lantis Republic’s hotel, hoping that he would befriend a member of the younger generation that could help him get baptised. Yet, it was Longyu Tian that first discovered him. Also, her actions afterwards are unprecedented in the history of mankind. No matter how talented Shin was, in what universe would a Spirit Saint move for the sake of one Spirit Core cultivator?”
“…” Saint Firebird furrowed his brows. He had to admit, Lady Seph was making a tonne of sense.
“Longyu Tian must know something, something about the true nature of Shin’s Spirit to force her to act that way. If she’s willing to sacrifice the entire Lantis Republic’s military for the sake of Shin, there must be a compelling reason for her to do so.”
“The true nature of Shin’s Spirit?” Prince Koshaku repeated.
“Have you ever heard of the Mark of the Celestial Dragon?”
“Vaguely.” Saint Firebird nodded. “Those who awakened any of the Eight Scions of Water would have a chance of earning that legendary mark. However, other than becoming a little more powerful than the average cultivator, is there really any benefit of that mark?”
“If there isn’t, why did Longyu Tian act in that dubious manner?”
“Saint Firebird, I’m not suggesting that we don’t take the Lantis Republic’s proposal. After all, it may be a win-win scenario for all of us.” Lady Seph was still hopeful that Shin could get baptised in the Celestial River. If he had to leave the Himmel Empire, so be it. However, the boy had to be protected by forces other than the Lantis Republic. If the Longyu Clan had any nefarious intentions when it came to the boy, the Himmel Empire must have a hand to intervene.
“All I’m suggesting you do is to proceed with caution. Investigate into Longyu Tian’s intentions, and don’t relinquish Shin’s citizenship. That way, the Lantis Republic won’t be able to publicly harm him.”
“Koshaku… What do you think?” Ultimately, Saint Firebird wasn’t the one in charge of deciding political affairs. Yes, he held a significant amount of influence, but the actual decision maker here was the brother of the Sovereign Emperor.
“We… Should be cautious.” Prince Koshaku took a few moments to think before coming to a decision. Evidently, he was also sceptical about Longyu Tian’s true motives. “How do you plan we proceed, Venerate Seraphim?”
As the old adage goes, an elder’s advice was better than reading a thousand books.
“Here’s my suggestion…”