“...” Shin was absolutely speechless at Jingyu Taiyi’s wild plan. On the surface, he was taking the handicap and moral high ground, since all Shin needed to do to win was to beat Taiyi’s illusions. However, in truth, Shin was the one that’s losing out the most.
Not caring about the youth’s fury, Jingyu Taiyi took out an incense stick and placed it on the mini-cauldron he prepared. “Ten minutes! You let me into your mind, and I’ll start the timer! If you can break free of my illusions within ten minutes, you win! Simple, isn’t it?”
‘Like hell it is!!!’ Shin hollered out internally. His preparations for Taiyi was far different from the rest. All of his homework was investigating how to evade entering Taiyi’s illusions, not trying to escape from it. Though he had Kanari help him increase his resistance against Mind-Elemental attacks, Shin didn’t really know how Jingyu Taiyi’s illusions would affect him.
Still, there were some benefits from accepting the youth’s proposal. Among the five Luminaries, the only one that Shin was unsure of beating was this grey-haired young man, who never seemed to stop smiling. Jingyu Taiyi was unlike many of the opponents that Shin had faced before as his techniques were all unorthodox. He wasn’t a pure combatant and never claimed to be one, however, once Shin was entrapped in Taiyi’s illusions, the Jingyu Luminary could unleash hell upon the poor youth’s body. In the state that Shin was in, it wasn’t a risk that he could bear to take.
Shin’s shoulders dropped, and his bouncy face twitched slightly. He had to take the terms, even though it may be a trap. “Fine… However, give me a minute to freshen up. I’m still quite sweaty after my match with Senior Linji.”
Jingyu Taiyi raised his eyebrows for a little bit before releasing a happy smile. “One minute. I’ll time you.” Evidently, he didn’t think that one minute was sufficient for Shin to recover entirely before taking on his illusions.
Kanari and Longyu Hai rushed onto the stage, the young squire even holding on to a bucket of warm water with a wrung towel hanging over her shoulders. If Shin walked back to his rest corner, valuable seconds would have been lost. Thus, the rest corner came to him.
“Brother Shin, are you alright?!” Longyu Hai squeezed the towel and gently wiped the sweat off the man’s face.
“I’m fine, just a little tired,” replied the youth. The next match didn’t require the use of any mana or physical ability. All that Shin needed to do was to stabilise his mind and steel his resolve. He held onto Kanari’s petite hands, ignoring the hundred thousand pairs of eyes observing his every movement.
There was a slight blush in the Highgarden Maiden’s face, but she quickly quelled down her emotions. At this moment, it was more important for her to act as a pillar of support for Shin. “Shin, are you sure you want to do this so abruptly?”
“Yes, I’m sure...” The young man nodded. He looked up, only to see Jingyu’s jester grin still peering down on him. “Jingyu Taiyi is a much more troublesome opponent to fight against. I have no certainty that I could best him in a one-on-one situation. Escaping his illusions is actually the best scenario for me.”
“Still...” Kanari wanted to continue, but she quickly tuned that desire out. It was imperative that Shin had a clear mind when fighting against someone with the Mind-Element. “No, it’s fine… Shin, just remember our training. Although I don’t know how strong his illusions are, they probably can’t hold a candle against my Mind Flame.” Kanari began to gloat, drawing smiles from both of them.
“We’ve practised this before. Circulate your mana into your brain. Remember, everything that you’ll be shown whether it be good or bad… They’re all just fallacies. Your body still exists in the mortal realm. Your mind, organs, limbs… Everything, they still exist physically. As long as you’re not seduced by the illusions and remember that one simple fact, you’ll be able to beat this clown.” Kanari warned.
“Right, I’ll be careful,” Shin replied. The one minute that was promised to the youth flew by in before he knew it, and it was finally time for the third match of the day.
“I believe in you, Brother Shin!” As they were rushed out of the arena, Longyu Hai waved an adorable goodbye, giving Shin some hope. Kanari did the same. Though their time together was short, the two girls had given Shin enough conviction to strengthen his will.
Taking two deep breaths in, Shin sat down next to the incense burner and stuck his chin out. “I’m ready...”
“Hehe, good.” Jingyu, Taiyi nodded. He looked up into the skybox where the High Elders were, and a devilish wink was shown to the audience. Everyone could instantly tell the connection, and soon, everything started to make sense. Some knowledgeable people had even boldly given their assumptions.
“So the High Council are behind this change… Honestly, doesn’t it look like they’re trying too hard to force Shin out?” One Spirit Lord remarked, his brows knitted together. It was apparent that he wasn’t a fan of the High Council’s decision.
“Stifling a talent’s prospects just because of politics… Seriously...” Another man wanted to curse, but as they all say, the walls have ears. It may not be against the law to criticise the government. However, all of their livelihoods were dependent on the Eight Clans of Water. If they offended the High Elders from those clans, they could kiss their future prospects goodbye.
Longyu Dao’s superior Spirit Venerate hearing picked up on the murmurs from the crowd. With his arms folded and feet tapping, the Longyu Clan Master wore a jubilant smile. It was what his goal in the first place. Turn the common public against the High Council. Even if Shin didn’t beat the remaining three Luminaries, he had convinced more than half of the audience that the youth should be taking the Trial.
And it all began with Jingyu Taiyi’s little wink.
“Haha, whose side is he on?” Jingyu Shenxian slapped her forehead, unable to hold back her laughter. No one could control the jester. The High Elders of the Jingyu Clan, who combined had over a thousand years of experience, all fell to the playful deeds of their champion.
“My guess is that he finds it more entertaining if Shin takes the Trial, or he’s just creating chaos for chaos’ sake.” Longyu Dao observed. “Either way, it’s good that I’d invited him to join the matches! One move from him is more useful than a thousand planned moves of mine!”
“You’re right,” the Chancellor slapped her right thigh and arched her back slightly forward. The match had officially begun. Shin was seated in a lotus position in the middle of the arena. Jingyu Taiyi, after his mischievous action, took centre stage as well. Twenty mirrors crept out of nowhere as a massive whale-like creature appeared right above them all.
It had five scaly tendrils and a massive convex head. In its mouth, dozens of fangs hung outwards, and dense steam flowed out with each passing second. Shin was relieved that the creature flying above was just a Spirit, else, his small body would likely become a snack for the behemoth. Really, if one compared the Sovereign Koi to the colossal creature, one couldn’t be blamed for thinking that they weren’t related.
Once Jingyu Taiyi had summoned out the Colossal Leviathan and executed his signature illusory ability, the Mirrors of Ithaca, the crowd universally gasped. A Spirit Spectre wasn’t supposed to possess such a domineering presence. Jingyu Shenxian mused at her junior’s ferocity. “However if you think that he’s going to hold back against Shin, I think that you’re going to be in for a surprise.”
Shin was likewise in awe of Taiyi’s presence. He had even found it fortunate that he wasn’t facing the man at full power. Still, there wasn’t any time for him to let his mind wander. Shin steeled himself as the mirrors glowed ever so brightly. The hundred thousand strong crowds had disappeared into the backdrop, and everything became so dazzling in a matter of seconds. Eventually… Only Jingyu Taiyi’s words could be heard.
“Your ten minutes… Begins now!!!”
Then, the world turned white…
When Shin ‘woke up’ Yingxiong Amphitheatre had disappeared. In its place, an entire lake had come into view. It was surrounded by thick, lush forest. The happy chirps of toucans were the first sound that entered Shin’s ears. Shin raised his two arms and started to check himself. All his five senses were working. He could taste the air, smell the pungent dung from the side, hear the solemn sounds of the pristine lake. Shin's fingers were even capable of digging into the dirt, and most importantly, the illusory world was exactly identical to that of the material realm.
“Where am I?” Shin thought out loud. He knew that he was in an illusion, Shin just didn’t know where Taiyi had transported him to. Oddly enough, the place looked familiar. Shin had been here before…
It was no surprise that those who possess the Mind-Element were capable of digging into one’s brain to dig up some of their most hidden memories. So, Taiyi may have done just that.
Suddenly, the ground began to tremble, and the air shook violently. Trees fell down as birds flew desperately away. The roar perked Shin’s ears up, and he gradually turned around. There was more curiosity than fear in his movements. From the depths of the forest, an enormous ten-metre silverback gorilla barged out, holding onto a chopped tree trunk. Its eyes were glowing red, and two fangs hung out from its upper mouth. It was angry, no doubt. Leaping straight at Shin, the gorilla swung the tree trunk in its hands ready to smash Shin as if he was a pesky housefly.
In any other situation, Shin would have evaded rapidly, possibly casting his spiritual abilities to protect himself. However, he did none of that. His Spiritual Body Enhancement, his water abilities, his Domain of Dreams… Shin didn’t do anything. In fact, he wasn’t even planning on moving a single finger. Shin closed his eyes and circulated his mana towards his brain. And then…
The silverback gorilla phased through the youth like a ghost passing through a wall. There was no damage to the ground or the lake. Shin’s aggressor was just like his surroundings. Just an illusion.
“You’re not fooling me, Jingyu Taiyi...” Shin called out the jester’s name in full. He was in an illusion and the first step of defeating a Spirit User with the Mind-Element was to take control of his own mind. If Shin could clearly differentiate between what was real and what was false, he would break free of the illusion in no time.
Shin sat down and began to meditate. He wasn’t going to fall for the clown’s tricks. Shin was going to break through the mind-bending deeds, and he was going to do it quick. There were still two more Luminaries for him to face after all.
The lake continued to be peaceful. There weren’t any more interruptions like the silverback gorilla. All that Shin had left was peace and quiet, which helped him greatly in unravelling the fantasy that he was in. The earthen ground became transparent and the realistic chirps of birds and turned distorted. Shin was making groundbreaking progress. By his estimate, if he continued at this rate, he should be out within a minute. However, there was no way that Jingyu Taiyi would sit back and do nothing…
“Shin? Is that you?” A soft and sweet voice broke the youth’s peace. He faltered a little when he heard the voice. Shin had never met someone with that distinct tone before. However, for some primal reason, the youth felt like he needed to answer. That slight hesitation was all it took for the illusions to slip back in, making the false world even more real from Shin’s eyes.
As much as the youth wanted to ignore the voice, his body failed to listen to him. Memories floated up from his subconscious and bit by bit, Shin’s walls started to crumble.
And then… He turned around.
A breathtaking couple stood right before his eyes. The man looked like he was in his late-thirties. The jet-black hair and azure-lake eyes sparkled in the natural light. His nose was exactly the same as Shin’s, and the man’s smile brought warmth into the youth’s dense heart.
The woman was a charmer as well. Her long black hair was tied up in a bun and held together with a Sovereign Koi hairpin. Her porcelain skin glistened beautifully, reflected the calm atmosphere given out by the pure lake that stood behind her. She was gorgeous, perhaps more so than Kanari in Shin’s eyes. Though the woman didn’t have the same youth as Shin’s girlfriend, she had a mature charm that could only be obtained through years of experience.
There was no need for words.
Shin already knew who they were. He had never seen them in person, but he had often dreamt about them. Mayor Nadeo from Chilyoja Waypoint had described the pair’s image once before. No, even earlier than that. When Shin was kidnapped by the Black Masks, Shia had told him dozens of stories about this couple.