Shin woke alone. The slick flicker of candlelight illuminated the grey brick ceiling above his head, enabling him to observe the chambers as it was. The thick aroma of burning sandalwood filled the boy’s lungs, making his stay in bed much more pleasant. His body felt heavy, and his neck was sore. Looking out of the bedside window, Shin saw the blanket of stars slowly disappear as the sky turned blue. It was almost time for daybreak and Shin’s early-rising body knew it. On a regular day, he would be up by now to warm up for his morning exercise. However, his body was far too weak, and his mana circuits had just started his recovery process. Even if Shin wanted to train, his constitution wouldn’t allow him to.
“It hurts...” Shin sat up, shoulders stiff and everything. Circling his neck in a clockwise rotation, the youth started to wake his muscles up from their hibernation. Shin yawned and stretched, blood pumping everywhere. His pale white face brightened up after getting plenty of rest from his slumber.
A week ago, after confronting Latina for the final time, Shin returned home and immediately collapsed on his bed. He had just awoken from a coma, and his body wasn’t accustomed to staying awake, primarily due to the mental stress he sustained. So Shin continued to sleep, this time in a controlled manner. Kanari and the rest of his friends returned back to their homes to tend to their own matters. After all, they couldn’t just stay at Shin’s bedside forever.
The orphans took rotating shifts to care for their wounded brother. Lia was still in charge of cooking and household chores, so she was exempt, but the rest took time off from their jobs or school to stay by Shin’s side. Ryner took a rain check from his hunting job, Max had to leave his apprenticeship with his merchant master while the rest had to halt their studies. Elyse and Fionn, who were students at Imperius Academy, were lucky as the school was on break, so all they needed to do was cancel their study plans for the holidays. Jacob didn’t get off lightly, though. The National Research Institute where he was attending was in the middle of their academic term. It took Lady Seph to pull some strings so that the youngster could spend some time with his older brother.
It may be an inconvenience for now, but every single orphan gladly accepted it, and not just because they wanted to keep their brother safe. It might be Shin’s final month in the Himmel Empire. Once he goes to the Lantis Republic, they wouldn’t see one another for five years, barring some unique occasions. The orphans had never been divided in such a manner before. They have spent almost two decades playing together, being five years apart was just unbearable.
Even Elyse, who tried to rid herself of her tendency to cuddle up with Shin since she turned sixteen, reverted back to her old state and stayed by the youth’s side for hours at a time, completely throwing away her tough facade as a master assassin. Back on the mountain, the only three orphans that Shin was closest to were Junius, Emma and Elyse. There was a high chance that Emma would be accompanying Shin, alongside Ella and Kanari, to the Lantis Republic and Elyse couldn’t go due to her schooling at Imperius Academy. So naturally, the young maiden would attempt to spend as much time as she could.
Shin really was living the life. Lying still in bed while others cooked for him, cleaned his clothes, fed him, showered him and tended to his every need. However, there was one problem… The perfect life really was dull. Shin wasn’t allowed to move by himself. He couldn’t train, he couldn't practice his spiritual abilities and worse of all, everyone kept telling him to sleep. So his daily routine would be to eat, shit, sleep and repeat. For a workaholic like Shin, that just wasn’t an appealing option.
So, he turned all his energy to reading books, more specifically, the word-for-word copy of the Celestial Water Mantra that Meijing Bingying had brought over by the orders of Longyu Tian. Shin had been basing his cultivation off the worn-down transcript of the mantra that was stored in the Frie Clan’s Athenaeum. It was brown with mould and had weak papyrus that would have been torn with a simple tug.
It had its merits, though. Due to the lack of explanations available, Shin had to interpret the Celestial Water Mantra with his own comprehension power, which was his strongest suit. Shin had looked at the cultivation technique with his own unique lens, giving him a base perspective that was exclusive to himself. However, no matter how smart he was, Shin couldn’t beat thousands of years of wisdom.
When Meijing Bingying first brought the Lantis Republic’s version of the Celestial Water Mantra over for Shin, the youth wondered if he was looking at the same copy. Yes, the words were somewhat the same, but there was an extended manual attached to the transcript explaining what each line meant and the numerous ways one could interpret them.
It was jaw-dropping for Shin. One of the reasons why he progressed this much over the four years since Bingying’s arrival was precisely due to this copy of the Celestial Water Mantra. Through it, Shin learnt how to control water, what states it was usually in, how to make the elements bend to his will, learn to imitate the techniques of other Spirit Beasts, turning water to ice… So many of his now signature moves were acquired via this method. However, something seemed to be missing.
Shin eased his burning muscle aches and sat on his bed in a lotus position. He took out the old Celestial Water Mantra that he had been referring to since the day he began cultivation. Flipping through the two texts, Shin compared word for word. There were some differing paragraphs due to mistranslation, and some sentences from the Lantis Republic’s version were absent in Shin’s older one. By all metrics, the Celestial Water Mantra Shin had been cultivating in during the earlier parts of his Spirit User years was inferior. On a technical level that is…
All of his most devastating memories came when he was still under this system. The Second Elder trying to assassinate him on Frie Mountain and the First Elder being unable to do anything to him... Gawil Jefferson almost killing him in Chilyoja Waypoint… The fall of Aldrich’s Keep and his first patient, Ronlen’s, death in his arms. And finally, the tragedy that claimed the lives of Ariel, Lily and Linus. They all happened when Shin was under this mantra.
Whenever Shin’s heart went into turmoil, whenever he felt like everything was lost, Shin would revert back to the Celestial Water Mantra to keep his heart at peace…
“Heart…” The young man muttered under his breath. “That’s what’s missing in this new version.”
Shin raised the Lantis Republic’s copy and exhaled deeply. The version that Meijing Bingying had brought over was way too technical. They contained the wisdom of many sages that came before him, and that was the true crux behind why Shin felt so stagnant when practising from this mantra. Regurgitated wisdom isn’t true wisdom. Comprehending what someone else had understood didn’t make the mantra unique to him.
It was like a test taker learning from past-year exam questions to prepare for their own exams. Yes, they would have a higher chance of passing or even acing the next exam, but they lacked the fundamentals that allowed them to comprehend the subject matter at hand.
Shin was in a similar state. He had the technical expertise of high-levelled Spirit Users that came before him, some even Spirit Saints that were hailed as far superior geniuses. However, no matter how much he learnt from this textbook, Shin was never going to become a cultivator that was unique to himself.
The old manual was read by his heart, not his mind. Why did he use the mantra to become a healer? Because Lady Seph showed him that healing others would bring him the most happiness. Why did Shin go on the fighter path? Because Ariel had died and he realised his own weaknesses. Why did Shin assimilate with the Shard of the Azure Dragon? Because he wanted to become strong enough to take down Junius.
So… In the end, what really mattered?
“I have to… Follow where my heart dictates. I have to be true to myself.”
Shin chanted the mantra from chapter five. Right now, he was on yet another crossroad. Finding out that Latina’s father was Star Face really put him in his place. The fighter path, the path that he sought out so much… It led to death and destruction. Every death is a life lost and… How heavy was a soul? How valuable the person was when he or she was alive? Who would be impacted if their life was so brutally taken away? Shin didn’t know.
“My heart… What my heart is telling me… What do I want to do?” Shin thought long and hard over this question for the past week.
Latina had left the Capital with Natalie, silently to a place far away. Shin would possibly never see her again in his lifetime. But it doesn’t change the fact that he had changed her life forever. Shin didn’t want to make a new Latina. He didn’t want to kill random men and women, not knowing if others would be affected by their absence. His eyes sparkled in azure light, mana boiling up to the surface. Shin chanted.
All of his meridians and mana circuits were still recovering from using the shard against the Paradise Heart, and Shin was barred from using any spiritual abilities for at least a month. However, he was still allowed to cultivate and get some mana flowing through his broken down body, and Shin had done so religiously.
Falling into a trance-like state, Shin felt all of his soreness being washed away while his consciousness fell into the abyss. His mouth continued to chant without him knowing and his body radiated a royal cerulean light. The world around Shin started to change, as well.
The temperature dipped dramatically as all of the water elements started to flow straight into Shin’s body. It was as if the man had become a black hole that sucked in any spiritual energy that surrounded him. Shin’s private chambers were laced with high-density mana crystals, courtesy of the Lantis Republic and the advocating voice that was Meijing Bingying. She argued that for Shin to make a faster recovery, his environment should be filled with water elements. Since they couldn't physically move him to the Lantis Archipelago yet, placing mana crystals was the second-best option.
It truly was a stroke of luck for the youth. Shin’s heart had been tested throughout the decade he was a cultivator. Life has thrown him so many obstacles, and Shin barely scraped through every single one of them. Each hurdle he passed was a blockade that tampered with Shin’s heart, making it stronger every single day. He was raised up on a pedestal and thrown violently to the ground. Tasted sweetness that few could ever have and was given bitterness that no one should ever taste. Bit by bit, through those trials and tribulations, Shin began to find out who he truly was, what he really wanted. And now…
The chant continued on. Shin’s chambers shook, alerting everyone else who stayed adjacent. The spiritual energies in Lady Seph’s mansion were being depleted rapidly, at a rate none of them had ever experienced before. Shin’s body was like a hungry hippo. It didn’t care about anything but its own hunger and thirst for more spiritual energy. His body glowed in all its cerulean grandeur while a menacing pressure descended upon the room.
Lady Seph, who had been sleeping soundly thus far, abruptly opened her eyes and looked in the direction of Shin’s room. She quickly put on a cardigan to hide her nightgown and flew out of her room like a lightning sparrow. The Spirit Venerate wasn’t the only one who was alerted. Even the weaker orphans ran towards Shin’s room, fearing the worst.
However, what they saw stunned them all entirely. The young Rank 37 Spirit Adept, who wasn’t capable of using any form of spiritual abilities, was now levitating off his bed, greedily sucking in all of the spiritual energy that he could. Lady Seph knew of this phenomenon, but she didn’t want to believe it.
“Is he… Breaking through in the Spirit Spectre realm?” Lady Seph’s eyes flickered, both in shock and awe.
Levitating was a unique ability to anyone who was Spirit Spectre and up. Their bodies had passed the first threshold of mortality and were now more attuned with nature. However, Shin was still at Rank 37. How could he trigger the process to enter the Spirit Spectre realm when he was three ranks short?
“Quick! Call everyone here! That brat from the Lantis Republic, Eru, and even that Highgarden lass. Tell them to bring as many water elemental crystals that they have!” Lady Seph barked orders that the orphans, who had just started to gather. “Max, you work at the Zedcris Conglomerate, right?”
“Y-yeah!” The stunned bob-haired boy replied, slurring his words.
Lady Seph threw a card in the boy’s face. “Purchase as many crystals as you can! Get that Elrin girl to help you if you must! Time is of the essence! Hurry up! Your brother is about to become a Spirit Spectre!!!”