The next day, the recruitment supervisor from Sirius came to find Astra and the others. He was followed by two military officers.
The two military officers wore the standard uniform for soldiers of the Empire. They stood with their backs straight and heads up; one of them still had the energetic aura of youth, while the other seemed more stoic and mature in nature.
The two officers closely regarded the five students in front of them, but they were careful to relax their tense stances enough to make the cadets feel more at ease.
“These officers are from the Third Cohort of the Morningstar Legion.” The supervisor’s expression was serious, but his tone was gentle. “They have some things to ask all of you. It would be best if your answers are as detailed and honest as possible.”
The teammates all looked at each other before they nodded and spoke to the visiting officers, “You can ask us anything.”
“No need to rush, let us sit down first.”
The older officer smiled. “There’s not much. We just wanted to ask you some questions about the pirate you met on Vagor.”
They all sat down. The five youths settled down on the opposite side of the officers. Astra was squeezed into a tight spot between Wen and Jiyu.
Jiyu spoke first, “So that pirate…”
All the adults in the room looked at him. Not only that, the two officers also opened their computer devices and began to record the meeting.
Jiyu smiled awkwardly. “So that pirate, it was our first time meeting him.”
The other people in the room, “…
“Please don’t mind him.” Wen rubbed his temples, the polite smile on his face slipping. “He just wanted to say something to break the ice.”
The officers couldn’t hold it in and laughed. “No no, I think it’s quite nice. Please don’t be nervous, we’re not here to intimidate you or anything.”
He tapped at his computing device and projected a hologram. The projection showed the pirate they had encountered on Vagor, but there was something off with the way he appeared in the hologram. His pupils were dilated and his face was covered with cold sweat. The once arrogant pirate had lost all his bravado, and he appeared terrified to the extreme.
One of the officers spoke as they all looked at the hologram in silence, “This pirate’s emotional state has been extremely unstable. We have detected signs of spiritual energy infiltration in his brain. When you guys last saw him, did he appear unable to move?”
Wen had been the one standing closest to the pirate that day. He appeared very shocked upon hearing the information. “Really? He was attacked by spiritual energy?”
Astra gave Wen a sidelong glance. No wonder the male lead was the protagonist. His acting was flawless as he displayed the perfect mix of astonishment and confusion.
“Did you see anything else out of the norm?” The officer looked at Wen. “For example, were there other people around?”
In reality, the military already knew about everything that went down on Vagor, but they still had to ask the boys in case there was something they missed.
“No,” Astra cut in. “Did something happen?”
“No,” This time, it was the younger soldier who spoke. He raised his head, the expression in his dark eyes serious as he adjusted his hat with slender fingers. He continued nonchalantly, “It’s just my guess at this point, but only Roux has ever used such trashy tactics against us.”
Linus perked up. “Which Roux are you talking about?”
“Which other Roux is there to talk about?” The older officer laughed humorlessly. “Of course we’re talking about the most famous one, the one which has been causing the military endless trouble.”
The younger officer gave his colleague a sidelong glance. “You don’t think my guess is true?”
“Let us take a look at the facts.” The older officer shrugged, and changed the holographic display.
The person in the image was tall and lithe. His face was covered with a silver mask. The eyes that peered at the camera seemed to hold a world of darkness and danger. That gaze was beautiful in its cold indifference, giving people chills as they marvelled at its beauty. Just like a blooming rose in a field of white bones.
The silver mask had a complicated pattern etched onto its surface. The lighting made the patterns seem alive, like countless flowers blossoming and spreading across that mask, feeding on blood and gore.
The person on the hologram, he was the Masked Pirate Roux.
“Roux, intergalactic pirate, trash of the Empire.” The younger officer crossed one leg over the other as strands of black shifted under his military cap. “A big fan of these underhanded trash tactics. Heh.”
The older officer’s eye twitched. It was embarrassing to admit, but everyone would want to catch their enemies unaware, though no one had spiritual energy strong enough to carry out attacks of this calibre.
The expression in Wen’s eyes turned chilling. However, Astra seemed to find this hilarious. He turned his head, burying his face into the back of the sofa, and whispered to Wen, “He kept on saying trash this and trash that, is that the only swear word he knows?”
“Seems like he isn’t the brightest of the bunch,” Linus harrumphed.
After confirming that the boys really didn’t know anything else, the older officer stood up. “Let’s go, there’s nothing else for us to inquire about.”
His younger colleague stood up as well. After taking two steps towards the door, he suddenly turned to look at the youths on the sofa. “My name is Edmund.”
Edmund was handsome, like a fine well-honed bladel. After the brief, four word introduction, Edmund gave the boys a long stare before he spoke again, “I look forward to our next meeting.”
The older officer followed Edmund out the door. The recruitment supervisor also left with them.
Astra opened up his computing device and searched for information on Roux. Everything he found was uncertain or contradictory and seemed more like fiction than fact.
Linus, who may or may not be a die-hard fan of the masked pirate, came over to take a look at what Astra was doing. “Are you interested in him?”
“Not really,” Astra replied. “Just wanted to know a bit more about him.” He looked at Wen, who was sitting beside him, and casually asked, “…Do you know a lot about this person?”
“Of course not.” Wen sighed. “I didn’t even know what he looked like until the officers showed us the hologram just now.”
Astra didn’t keep asking. He closed his computing device, as if he already lost interest in the topic and slung an arm across the back of the sofa behind Wen. He leaned towards the protagonist and smiled. “The Starnet says Solaris has a floating garden. Do you want to go see it?”
Astra gave Wen a flirtatious look and added, “Let’s go together sometime. There’s a training field nearby, does Mr. Second Place want to see who’s really better?”
If Wen knew the words, he would say he was being gayed.
T/N: played in a gay way = gayed. Deal with it.
Wen had only seen this look being used on girls, but when Astra was looking at him like this, he actually thought it was a little cute. Astra’s youthful energy made Wen feel younger. He threw a playful look back at Astra. “Okay.”
Their entire exchange completely went over Simon and Jiyu’s heads. The two of them looked at the strange pair on the sofa and chimed in, “We’re going too!”
In the end, except for Linus who insisted on staying behind to crack the code, everyone else decided to go out and goof around.
Solaris was enormous. There were many training centers and fighting rings. In the book The Journey, the author didn’t explicitly develop the mecha or much of the machine-weaponry typical of most intergalactic science fiction, but instead chose to focus on spiritual energy and the technology associated with it.
When the group arrived at the floating garden, the surveillance device at its entrance stopped them from entering.
“Testing failed, entry denied.”
Behind them stood a group of senior students. Upon seeing this, one of the upperclassmen asked, “Are you guys the new students from this year?”
“Yeah.” Simon was confused. “Is it because we didn’t get an official letter of acceptance that we’re not allowed to go in?”
“No,” the upperclassman replying to Simon grinned. “The floating garden’s monitoring devices operate independently from the school’s system. It has its own acceptance criteria. The system here will recognize you as a student of the school and allow you to enter the garden only if you pass its test with a score of at least 80.”
The upperclassman looked like he was getting ready to watch a very interesting show.
“What kind of test?” Astra rubbed his chin in thought. “Spiritual energy test?”
The handsome upperclassman smiled mysteriously and pointed at the screen far off to the side. “The testing station is over there. As for the actual test itself, no one knows what it’ll be.”
They thought it was pretty interesting. As they drew near they realized that the testing station was actually a virtual reality simulator. The four of them looked at each other, and put on their VR helmets before pressing down on the start button in their hands.
The world swirled in front of their eyes. In a split second, the scenery in front of them changed. One moment they were standing near the hanging gardens at Solaris, and the next second they found themselves facing a bottomless cliff. The wind around them scattered small rocks into the gaping mouth of the chasm that yawned open below.
“Where is this?”
As soon as the words were spoken, a cute machine voice replied from seemingly nowhere, “Welcome to the floating garden’s testing world! Yay!”
As soon as the first sentence had finished, the machine voice changed its tone, as if it was reading the lines of a play. The voice spoke passionately and with a graveness completely different from the cheery tone it used just seconds ago, “Oh brave knights, the beautiful princess has been locked in a tower by the evil step-father. You must all embark on a difficult journey to save the princess. If you are able to save the princess, all of you will pass the test.”
And then, a map and a picture of the princess appeared in front of them.
The princess had long, blonde curls, lips as red as rubies, and was wearing a delicate dress not unlike those found on porcelain dolls.
But her face was cold and impassive. And it looked just like Linus’s face.
Everyone present, “…”
A complicated mix of emotions rose at the sight.
No one would have predicted that the floating garden’s tests were this perverse. It made sense that it’d pick a person the four of them were associated with the most. But did the system really have to ignore the difference between genders, and just shove Linus’s face directly on this princess over here?
After their initial surprise, the four of them simultaneously raised their computing devices, pointed them at the princess, and started recording. What the fuck hahahahaha!
After they passed the level and exited the virtual world, they stood there in silence for quite a bit. They finally understood why that upperclassman had looked at them with such a strange expression.
Thinking of the virtual world, where the princess with Linus’s face had asked them coquettishly for a dance, the four of them shivered even though it wasn’t cold at all.
“Did you guys get it all?”
Simon gulped. “Didn’t miss a second of it!”
“I’ve got a good picture of his back in that dress.”
The screen on the testing station lit up, showing the number 92. The remaining 8 points were taken off because they didn’t show the princess enough affection.
The system recorded their information. The four of them could finally enter the floating gardens. But after the shocking encounter with princess Linus, the garden seemed almost boring in comparison. They wanted to return at once to share their exciting adventure with their remaining teammate.
When the four of them returned to the apartment, Linus was still trying to decode the message. Before Astra and the rest could bring up their encounter at the floating garden, Linus looked up from his work excitedly. “Just give me two more hours, I already found a way to do it, and I’m really close to cracking the code.”
Astra and Wen’s eyes met, their shock mirrored on each other’s faces. They immediately turned on the apartment’s protective features.
Even though Simon and Jiyu didn’t know why Astra and Wen were doing this, they still hurried to help.
Wen’s expression was serious as he repeated what he had told Astra to the rest of the team. Because of the unconditional trust between the teammates, no one suspected that Wen was telling anything but the truth.
Even though it was not good to lie to the team, Astra could see a hint of uncertainty in the male lead’s eyes. It seemed like the male lead had softened up quite a bit — at least towards their team.
Astra believed that sooner or later, Wen would feel comfortable enough around them to tell them everything, no more secrets or lies. Of course, Astra also hoped that one day, he’d be able to do the same.
Two hours passed in the blink of an eye. Linus hurried out of his room holding a piece of paper. He looked a bit tired, and even though his face still looked as stiff as ever, he appeared to be happy and excited. “Here’s the decoded message.”
He passed the paper to Astra. Astra took it and read the words out loud, “AC-01, Delta, AC-02, Ada.”
The dense block of small letters and numbers represented the names of different medicines and the people who had bought them. The names were all generic aliases used by buyers on the black market. Even after cracking the code, the most they could glean from the information wass what medicine the Medicine Man had sold.
The Medicine Man was too careful.
Astra looked for the medicine that Wen was trying to find and found it at the end of the list.
Wen’s gaze was fixated on the letters CD, it was impossible to tell what he was thinking.
“I don’t have the means to search for these names,” Linus spoke up in the silence. “I suggest we hand this over to the military.”
“We could,” Wen replied. “It’s the best thing to do.”
The boys sighed. It was already really late. This wasn’t the best time for discussion, so they all decided to head back to their rooms and sleep.
When Astra came back from his shower, Wen was already asleep. He was completely cocooned in his blankets, leaving only a tuft of black hair poking out from the top of the blanket.
This powerful protagonist’s sleeping posture was no different from any other normal person’s sleeping posture. Astra smiled. The automatic curtains were slowly closing, but just as the curtains were about to close completely, a flash of silver flickered outside the window.
Astra froze, but he quickly reacted. He ran to the window and slammed it open. In the next second, he found himself face to face with a silver mask.
Moonlight glimmered off of the cold metal. Against the dark backdrop of night, the flowers etched onto the mask seemed to be drawn with blood-swollen veins. The sight was chilling yet bewitching to behold.
“Good evening, my darling boy.” The Masked Pirate’s voice was husky and low. “Go get me the code, will you?”
T/N: I’m BACK hahahahaha! (QAQ) getting sick in university is so not worth it. Advanced chapters will be updated on Patreon (currently working on it!) thank you guys so much for your patience 😀