The Himmel Empire. The Eastern Docks. Litong Harbour.
Thunderous waves crashed onto the high rock breakwaters bordering the fortified town. Morning darkness fades, revealing the crystal clear azure sky that any sailor would pray to the sea gods for. Annoying and deafening horns from the ships were the norm for this early hour. Trade merchants from the Lantis Republic would move their goods through the designated pier spots that they were given, while officials from the Himmel Empire carefully scrutinised each shipment.
Litong Harbour was perhaps the most critical land in the relationship between the Himmel Empire and the Lantis Republic. With a population nearing five million, the pier was unquestionably one of the most densely populated areas in the entire Empire. There was at least two Rank 80 Spirit Venerates permanently stationed in the harbour, watching over the public safety of the region.
Shin really liked this place. Not only was it extremely close to the ocean, but it was also a commercial hub not that inferior to that of the Capital. Shin could buy as many water-elemental crystals as he wished and could talk to sailors who experienced devastating attacks by oceanic Spirit Beasts, further enhancing his insight into the art of water. It was a pity that he could only spend two days in the area before his ship arrived.
Speaking of which, the carrier that the Longyu Clan had sent over was quite the beaut. Even a hundred metres out, Shin could tell that the frigate stood heads and shoulders above its peers, at least twice the size of the next largest boat. And it had the protection to back it up. Each side of the ship was littered with heavy artillery, and mounted cannons hung down from its deck. For some reason, the Longyu Clan’s frigate also had a thin bubble layer protecting the hull. Anyone with a little bit of experience could tell that it was a mana barrier, but the problem was, Shin, didn’t understand how a frigate could possess such advanced technology.
Still, he wasn’t complaining. If that was his escort, Shin could sleep soundly through the night, knowing that nothing could harm him when he was on the boat.
“I guess this is it, huh?” Isadore stood at the foot of the pier, alongside many of Shin’s trusted allies throughout his life in the Himmel Empire. Shin’s luggage had long been moved up into his bunk, giving the young man some free time to say his final goodbyes. “I’d never thought that we would be separated this quickly.”
“Don’t say that,” replied Shin. “We would likely see each other again within the coming months. No one knows what the Black Masks are doing, and I can’t just stay in the Lantis Republic forever.” The youth tapped on his friend’s shoulder, reassuring him of his eventual return. “Also, I’m counting on you to create that intelligence agency that you keep dreaming about! My new organisation needs someone like you around!”
“You’re right...” Still, Isadore couldn’t rub off the despondency that he was feeling.
“My good friend!” The black-haired boy brought Isadore in for a bear hug, enjoying the softness of his gorgeous silver hair. Isadore was his first friend outside of the orphans. He stood by Shin through thick and thin, in his darkest hour and his most radiant ones. If not for Isadore, Shin knew that his trajectory in Imperius Academy would have been significantly different.
Releasing his hold, Shin stared straight into Isadore’s eyes. “I’m depending on you to look after my brothers and sisters while I’m gone. Could you do that?”
Shin was only bringing Kanari, Shizen, Ella and Emma along to the Lantis Republic and Elrin would be arriving at a later date with her father’s trading ship. The rest of the orphans were all going to stay in the Capital to continue on with their studies and jobs. Not to mention, Lady Seph and Bingying, the two pillars that kept the orphans safe, were also leaving with Shin. Although no one would be stupid enough to pick a fight with them just because Shin was gone, the youth couldn’t help but feel worried for his dear siblings.
“Yeah, just leave it to me.” Isadore tapped on his chest and proudly declared. “If anyone dares to mess with them, I’ll be the first to send them to hell.”
“Hehe, that’s good.” Shin chuckled and turned to Elyse and Fionn, who was waiting patiently by Isadore’s side. “The two of you as well, listen to Isadore, alright? Once I create my organisation to hunt down Payircis, your talents would be needed. Until then, just train hard, okay?”
Just like Shin and the twins, Elyse and Fionn had been training in Imperius Academy to become master fighters on the field. Their wind-elemental weapon Spirits were more geared towards assassinations and roguish fields, an aspect that was sorely missing in the seven young heroes line-up. Eventually, when Shin creates his organisation, he would want to incorporate all of the orphans in it, be it on the frontlines or the backend.
“I understand!” Elyse answered back, enthusiastically. Then, for the first time in two years, Elyse bit her lip and ran into Shin’s embrace. She used to do this a lot back when she was a child. However, since she wanted to mature a little faster and become less of a burden to the brother she loved so dearly, Elyse held back her urges. Now that Shin was about to leave the Himmel Empire, the girl was finally unable to hold back anymore.
“Shin… Please stay safe...”
The youth widened his eyes for a while before a warm smile crept up his face, his expression softening like a father embracing his daughter. “Haha, that’s my line,” said Shin as he planted a kiss on Elyse’s forehead. “I’ll keep in touch. Tell me if anyone dares to bully you. Even if I have to break the Lantis Republic’s law, I’ll fly back to the Capital to teach that fucker a lesson.”
“You’re such an overprotective brother!” The girl gasped, only to break out in laughter a few seconds later. “But that’s what I love about you...”
“Hehe, I love you too!”
Elyse always had a soft spot in Shin’s heart, even back when the orphans were still struggling in Frie Mountain. If there Shin had to choose someone he loved platonically more than anyone else, it would be a tie between Elyse and Lady Seph. He continued to hug the young maiden for a long time and only released his hold of her when Ryner coughed dryly twice.
“Wait your turn, Brother Ryner!” Elyse complained, only to be gently stroked by Shin’s gentle hands.
“Brother Ryner, sorry for pushing all of the burdens onto you.” Shin hugged the tall man, bringing out his most apologetic tone. Once he had left the Empire, Ryner would be forced to step up and tend to Lady Seph’s mansion as well as the livelihood of the orphans. Although Shin had theoretically left enough money for the youngsters to live happily for the rest of their lives, there were many things that money couldn’t solve, especially in the Capital where politics was king. In the past, Lady Seph or Shin would deflect those cumbersome matters away from the orphans’ path. Now, it all landed on the shoulders of that one man.
“Don’t worry!” Ryner held onto Shin’s shoulders and lightly dusted them as if trying to take off an invisible weight. “You should rely on your elders more often! I’ll make sure that everyone is safe and sound!”
“Haha, that’s very dependable of you!” The black-haired youth chortled. He continued on to say his goodbyes one-by-one, to every single person that came to send him off. The orphans, Principal Erudito, even Mychael, the man who tortured Shin the most, took the ride east to say one last goodbye.
“Shin! The Captain says that we can depart anytime now!” From the top of the deck, Meijing Bingying hollered out, flailing her arms about in the air.
“That’s my signal...” The youth sighed. Kanari was still saying her goodbyes to her parents, who had travelled all the way from the Highgarden Duchy to send her off. Lady Seph had already boarded the ship with Kesyl, her new apprentice that Duke Mesyl had requested the woman mentor. Shizen was still clueless about the new adventure that he was about to embark on, but still nervously waved his hand at the anxious Principal Erudito, who feared the ignorance of his apprentice. The twins were also about finished with their goodbyes and had stood behind the youth, ready to board the ship at any moment’s notice.
‘The Himmel Empire…’ Shin thought to himself as he stared westwards into the city. This was the place where he was born and grew up. He had sweet memories in the Empire. He also had sour ones, and… He also had some that he would never want to experience again. Still, one thing’s for sure… The memories that Shin had in the Himmel Empire, they would stick with him like glue from this day, to the end of his days.
‘Goodbye, Himmel Empire… Let’s meet again soon.’
With that, the youth boarded the gigantic frigate, with all of his friends and family with him. It was time... to embark on a new adventure.
The Lantis Republic. High Elder Council Assembly.
The High Elder Council Assembly was the most powerful session in the Lantis Republic. Representatives from all the Eight Ancient Clans of Water would attend the meeting, deciding on any and all governmental affairs. In retrospect, the High Elder Council Assembly was akin to that of the Imperial Courts of the Himmel Empire. Usually, the congregation would gather once a month. However, this was the second meeting that the council had this week. Why?
“Shin Iofiel has left the Himmel Empire. It is estimated that he’ll reach the shores of Longyu Reef within three days.” The leading woman seated at the top of the octagon-shaped building, read out from a report she was just handed.
“So he’s finally coming, huh?” A High Elder from the Zhangyu Clan scoffed. “He should have come four years ago!”
“Now, now… What’s important is that he’s coming, right?” The Elder from the Jingyu Clan softened the agitated man with his soothing voice. “Anyway, since he’s about to arrive, are we going to prepare the Celestial River Trial immediately?”
“Yes and no.” A woman under the Shenshe banner replied, her face bare of any emotion. “It is our duty to perform the trial on any Scion that possesses the Mark of the Celestial Dragon. It has been passed down for generations, ever since the days of the Lady of Water. Nonetheless, we still have to determine the boy’s loyalty first.”
“Wouldn’t that be against our oath?” A timid looking young woman under the Meijing Clan banner raised her hand and asked. From her withdrawing posture, one could tell that she was a junior in the room. “Didn’t the Lady of Water decree that every single person with the Mark of the Celestial Dragon must go through the Celestial River’s Trial, no matter what their affiliation was?”
There was a brief period of silence. They may be more senior than the woman who raised their hands, but facts are facts. The High Elders didn’t have the authority to bar Shin from experiencing the Trial, even if he was an enemy of the Lantis Republic. Still…
“You’re right, but how many times have we been disappointed by the results? Ever since the Lady of Water, not one descendant had ever overcome the Trial! Even Saint Longyu Tian, whom we had all thought would be the one to finally clear the Trial, failed! At this point, I’m pretty sure that conquering the Trial is just a myth.” The Shenshe High Elder bellowed, bringing many nods on the table. “What’s wrong with just testing him out? If he’s good for the Lantis Republic great! We can allow him to take the Trial without any worry of him becoming a threat to us. However, if he’s intent on destroying the Lantis Republic… We should at least take some precautions.”
“Agreed!” Half of the voices in the room sounded out, while the other half remained silent. Apparently, this topic was still somewhat divided within the High Council.
The Chairwoman stroked her wrinkled face before hammering down her gavel. “Alright, how about this? We wait a month. The Longyu Clan will test him on his loyalties and see if he’s worth the investment. If Shin Iofiel doesn’t harbour malicious thoughts towards the Lantis Republic, we let him take the Trial. If he does have some unbecoming thoughts… Let’s just give him a normal baptism. That way, we can appease the Himmel Empire and Saint Longyu Tian.”
“Yeah… Let’s do that...” The High Elder from the Meijing Clan dropped her head, hiding her expression from anyone.
‘Looks like I have to tell Bingying about the High Council’s decision… Let’s just hope this Shin boy is really as good as her letters tell me...’