Book 9: The Celestial River || Chapter 14: The Reaffirmed Will (1)
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The warm aroma of freshly baked bread tickled the nostrils of Shin and his companions. Silver trolleys were carted into the gorgeous chambers that they were escorted to, carrying out scrumptious dishes, food that wasn’t available during the journey to Chilyoja Waypoint. Shin had one loaf in his left hand, while his right firmly held on to Kanari’s. Walking down memory lane, Shin pointed around Yakkyoku Clinic, explaining to the maiden all of the stories he had within this impressive building.

“Can you believe it? Before Master made herself known, this place used to be a dumpster with only one bathroom.” Shin’s face beamed in nostalgia when he reached the lush garden behind the clinic. “Master used to order me around like a workhorse. I had to clean the bathroom with my spiritual ability even though I could only make water orbs!”

“Hehe, that sounds like something that she’ll do.” Kanari covered her mouth and let out a soft chuckle. Ever since they returned to Chilyoja Waypoint, Kanari had allowed Shin to ramble on while she listened attentively. It was rare for Shin to return back to the place he grew up in, and it also gave the maiden a little insight into the events that forged the man she loved. So, she didn’t mind being the listening ear.

“Hah… It really has been some time since I’ve been back here...” The young man sighed as he turned back into the atrium.

Shin was only twenty years of age. However, after witnessing the changes in Chilyoja Waypoint, the young man couldn’t help but feel old. Firstly, the streets were far more ordered and clean. Before, there would be the occasional dropped faeces on the side of the roads while daily vegetable sellers would holler at the top of their lungs. Now, none of that existed. Slowly, the waypoint which no one cared about had been transformed into a miniature version of the Capital.

Next, the people had aged quite terribly. Perhaps it was due to the stress of the recent beast hordes at Aldrich’s Keep, but the familiar faces that Shin had seen daily all started to get wrinkled up. Even the young boys and girls that he treated back when he was a career healer had grown up to be outstanding fighters.

Finally, the infrastructure. When Lady Seph first announced herself as the owner Yakkyoku Clinic, the Mayor’s Office decided to further develop Chilyoja Waypoint into a place where injured soldiers or travellers could rest and recuperate. That fact didn’t change even after their talisman healer left. Taking back Yakkyoku Clinic, Mayor Nadeo had used the illustrious brand and added three new branches.

Hundreds of talented healers were hired from the Healer’s Association, and soon, Chilyoja Waypoint’s name became synonymous with high-quality treatment. Warriors from the nearby Aldrich’s Keep would take medical vacations just to visit Yakkyoku Clinic to heal their old ailments or severe wounds, making the town one of the richest in the region.

The main branch of Yakkyoku Clinic, the place where Shin had once stayed, also received considerable benefits. Three Senior Healers supervised the day-to-day while dozens of Intermediate and Novice Healers continued to treat the population of the waypoint. Expanding to twice its original size, the newly refurbished Yakkyoku Clinic was now the second biggest building inside of the small town, second only to that of the Mayor’s Office.

However, there was one thing that would never change in the clinic where Lady Seph reigned supreme. Picking out a Lilyflower from the garden, Shin walked over to the simple tombstone at the very end of the garden, bringing Kanari along.

When they first arrived at the waypoint, the first thing that the orphans did was visit their deceased elder sister. It was a simple ceremony where they all gathered to place down flowers and to give their respects by standing around in silence. Shin noticed the leftover flowers from this morning had been blown askew, so he knelt down and reordered them nicely for Sister Lily to enjoy. Finally, the boy placed down the Lilyflower he plucked, completing the decoration for Sister Lily’s grave once more.

“Sister Lily, I’d met Junius,” said Shin, his voice hiding a tinge of sadness within. “He’s already deep inside of the Black Mask Syndicate. He didn’t even flinch when I mentioned your name. Honestly, he’s no longer the Junius that we know.” Shin thought back of the numerous times where Junius and Lily played happily together and were in pre-matrimonial bliss. He sighed, “If you were still alive, would he still be saveable?”

There was no answer. Of course, there wouldn’t be. Shin was just talking to an engraved rock after all. However, for some reason, the youth felt his heart fall into ease. It was as if a young maiden had appeared and whispered into his consciousness that everything was going to be alright.

Kanari crouched down and assisted the young man. “Shin, you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine...” He replied, standing straight up. “You know, I never like Sister Lily growing up. She was a pain in my ear and never stopped barking orders at me. Junius was always the guy that had to pull her off my case. So, I always adored Junius. He would always stand up for me no matter what the case was… Junius really was the ideal elder brother… It’s really a shame...”

Shin shook his head, not willing to open that can of worms. Junius had fallen to the Black Masks. There was no questioning that. Eventually, the man would be caught and forced to face the music. Whether it was by Shin or otherwise.

Kanari held Shin’s hand. “I’m sure if Sister Lily were here, she would think that nabbing Junius would be the right thing to do.”

“Yeah, I think so too...” The pair stood silently for a minute under the warm sun. The soft breeze of the afternoon tickled their bright faces while the sweet-smelling aroma of flowers beckoned their minds into Lalaland. It really was the perfect resting place for the best elder sister that the orphans could ever ask for.

“Speaking of catching the Black Masks, Kanari, do you remember my plans to create a new organisation?”

“What of it?” Kanari was stunned by the sudden change of topic but still opened up her ears for the curious subject matter. Shin suggested that he would create his own organisation many years back. However, the boy hadn’t developed that plan at all in the years since.

“I think I finally found out what our organisation could do.” Shin had thought long and hard before coming up with his own proposition. “After the first Payirci had appeared, the Black Masks have brought out hundreds more. No matter if it was the Kori Federation, Himmel Empire or the Lantis Republic, there’s always a Payirci floating nearby.”

“What about them?”

“The Alliance are shorthanded...” Shin explained. “Instead of sending White Knights to every single Payirci to clear them all, they decided to give out commissions to the already existing mercenaries surrounding each Payirci. On paper, that seems to be an excellent idea. However, there’s one shortcoming...” The young man used his thumb and pointed to the two of them. “Many of the mercenaries hired are like Latina’s Moon Mercenaries. They lack sufficient talent to breakthrough further in the Payircis.”

“Are you saying that we should become mercenaries?” Kanari gasped.

“Technically, yes. However, we’ll be mercenaries that specialise in dealing with the Black Masks, particularly the Payiricis that emerge all around the continent. Isadore will be our information network specialist, Elrin would be our Chief Financial Officer and Shizen… He can be our mascot!” Shin suggested, smiling all the way. “Also, we can get all of the orphans involved in the organisation as well. Furthermore, since we’re only moving to deal with the Black Masks, you won’t have to commit too much and can focus on Highgarden. Don’t you think that it’s a spectacular idea?”

“Hmmm… Actually, that’s not too bad...” Kanari stroked her smooth chin as she contemplated the idea. Either way, they needed to grow stronger, and the Payircis was a perfect tool to hone their craft.

Elyse, who had been busy settling their luggage with Fionn upstairs, walked into the gardens, where Shin and Kanari were paying their respects. “Shin… It’s time for us to meet with the Mayor,” the girl informed. “Also… There are some unexpected guests.”

“Unexpected guests?” Shin raised his brows.

“It’s better if you saw them for yourself.” Elyse held open the door as two figures stepped in. A maroon-haired woman, who seemed no older than thirty, stepped into gardens with a little apprehension. Likewise, the bony butler that followed moved forward at a snail’s pace, careful not to stun any as he approached.

When Shin saw the pair, he felt as if he were struck by a lightning bolt. Raising up his shivering finger, Shin pointed at them and said: “Sister Riko? Senior Marshall?”

That’s right. The pair that Elyse had brought with her, the middle-aged butler and the sultry woman in a mandarin dress, were the two faces Shin used to see the most in Chilyoja Waypoint. After he had moved to the Mushinkei, Riko and Marshall were the only two members of the Frie Clan that Shin could meet every single day. Some of Shin’s most joyous memories of Chilyoja Waypoint came from the Mushinkei. He would often dream of the long shoulder massages Riko would give him after a hard day’s work or the simple dinner conversation with the wise and gentle Marshall.

“It’s been a long time, Shin.” Riko was the first to break the ice. Though, she continued to stay her distance. Back when Shin was living in the Mushinkei, the young woman would often pinch his cheeks or tease him playfully. However, things have changed after those five years.

Shin was now known throughout the Empire as the Black-Haired Tyrant or the Prince of Water. He became a Spirit Spectre when he was just twenty and was powerful enough to take down the Paradise Heart of a Payirci. Compared to the old Shin, the youth’s current status was akin to that of a soaring dragon in the heavens. Even the Frie Clan’s Master, Enfen, had to be cautious with her speech around this Luminary who could break two superpowers.

“...” Shin looked at the pair in silence. Riko started to sweat while Marshall wrecked his brains to come up with an appropriate response. They didn’t know why the youth looked a little annoyed. Was he going to blame them for the sins of the Frie Clan? Was he going to attack them? The pair didn’t know, and Shin’s stillness wasn’t helping.

The youth bolted forward in a brisk walk, taking significant steps towards the pair. Panicking, Riko and Marshall resisted the urge to flail their arms around or retreat. If Shin wanted to hit them, the only thing that they could do was accept it. In just two seconds they accepted their fate and closed their eyes, ready for whatever punishment Shin might mete out. However…

“Ouuufff!” Both Riko and Marshall felt a soft touch grabbing on their necks as their breasts were squeezed against something hard. To their complete surprise, Shin had brought them tightly into his embrace. He was a head taller than Riko and a few centimetres short of Marshall. So both of them could see differing views of the youth’s face. Riko saw the ugly grimace that he had while Marshall felt the loneliness within the jet-black hair. His eyes shut, the boy said:

“I missed you...”

“!!!” The pair widened their eyes and felt their throats turn dry. Shin never blamed them… They were always in his heart. Yes, the Frie Clan may have broken his family apart and brought him so much pain, but the memories he shared with the pair in the Mushinkei were irrelevant to that blood-sucking conflict. Riko and Marshall genuinely cared for Shin and the orphans. There was no questioning that. So, Shin could never blame the pair.

Riko was the first to break. Choking on her tears, the maiden whispered lovingly into Shin’s ears:

“Welcome home...”