Book 3: Aldrich’s Keep || Chapter 12: A Pleasant Surprise (3)

“Just now, you said that you’re going to be famous. What did you mean by that?”

As the two young teens walked side by side towards the cafeteria, Ariel brought up Shin’s previous mumblings. It was rather strange for the young boy to so say such ludicrous words.

“Huh? Oh, that… You know I said that I just reached the Spirit Apostle realm?”

“What about it?”

“Apparently, I’m the youngest healer in history…”

“…”

Abruptly halting her footsteps, Ariel raised her eyebrows while giving Shin a queer look, as if he was a lunatic that had begun speaking gibberish. The black-haired youth similarly stopped and stared straight into the Amazonian girl’s eyes, mentally putting forth a signal that he was dead serious. With how close they were, some sort of telepathy had developed between the duo. If Ariel makes a statement about clobbering him to death, Shin instantly knew when she was joking and when he should desperately run. The same applied to Ariel. She would know when Shin was playing around and when he was serious.

“No way… You? Youngest healer?”

Although she could tell that Shin was being genuine, Ariel still could not believe her ears. She had long heard of legendary figures in their youth, they were the youngest scholars or youngest fighters to ever grace the land. Thinking that she was looking at the youngest healer in history, Ariel could not connect the dots between those legendary figures and the boy she had known since young. The boy who had wet his bed even until he was seven.

“Yeah, Master said so…”

“Oh god, I’m going to hurl…”

Covering her mouth, Ariel made a gesture imitating a person who was severely sick and had to empty their stomachs.

“Hey! It’s not like I want to be famous!”

Insulted by his childhood friend’s playful actions, Shin angrily retorted.

“Hmph! Given your lazy ass, I doubt people would really admire you!”

“Then I’ll become really famous! And then girls would line up to chase me!”

“HUH?! What kind of girl would be attracted to you?!”

With her razor sharp nails, Ariel pulled on Shin’s earlobes, punishing the black-haired youth for having wild fantasies.

“OW! OW! OW! GODDAMNIT ARIEL!!!”

Using his two hands, Shin got a firm grasp of the formidable girl’s outreached arm. Desperately squeezing and pulling on her lean yet muscular left hand, Shin attempted to free himself from the demon in a girl’s body. Over the years, Ariel had trained herself primarily on the strength discipline. Due to her natural physique, on her eleventh birthday, she had shattered the weight-lifting record in the Frie Clan of a prepubescent youth of both genders. She had lifted up a boulder weighing a tonne, something that even older strength-based Spirit Users were unable to accomplish.

Even the Instructor was only able to lift that same boulder when he was eighteen, seven years older than the little monster of the clan. Shin, who was training to be a healer, had focused primarily on the speed and agility discipline so that he could evade attacks, stood no chance against the bear claws of Ariel’s.

“Serves you right!”

Only after ten agonising seconds, did Ariel release the young boy. Shin could feel his ears burning, and if he had a mirror, he would be able to see that the right side of his head had turned entirely red. Using his sweaty palms, Shin gently massaged his ear and gave Ariel a hateful look:

“Hahhh… That violent side to you didn’t change at all huh?”

“Why should I change?”

“You know, you’re starting to become a grown girl, you should be more virtuous!”

“No way! I’m fine the way I am! Screw that virtuous thing! I’d much rather fight a thousand beasts than to stay at home learning calligraphy and what not!”

“That’s why you…”

“Harghh?!?!”

Like a wild hooligan, Ariel’s nostrils flared up as she gave Shin a vicious stare.

“Nothing…”

“I thought so!”

As they were bickering, their legs had carried them all the way to the Mushinkei cafeteria. It was a simple place. The scrumptious aroma of spices and soup boiled for hours filled the large room as the cacophony of human chatter made the place the most boisterous place in the tranquil building. Since the Mushinkei was a shared area, there were no walls between the tables. Anyone could join two tables together and join their friend’s meals thus, not only was the cafeteria a place for food, but it was also a great hub where people can get together and socialise.

“Shin! You’re here!”

The moment the duo stepped into the noisy lunchroom, a sharp and wheezy voice called out for Shin. After a quick scan, Shin noticed a large number of young teens gathered around at a joined table. At the head seat of the table, there was a brunette middle-aged lady, who gave out the air of an expert. However, that mystique broke down the instant she noticed her favourite cheeks that she had so sorely missed.

“Shin?” “Shin!” “Shin…”

A plethora of different emotions could be seen on the faces of all the teens gathered as they turned their head to look for their fellow orphan. Elyse and Emma, who were the closest to Shin, immediately stood up and bolted to the door. For the rest of the orphans, they flashed a cheerful smile as they watched the two girls running to greet the youth that they had come to visit.

“Elyse! Emma! Long time no…”

Before Shin could complete his sentence, he felt a soft impact on his abdomen. Looking down, all he could see was an ocean of sapphire as the distinct scent of shampoo filled his nose.

“Shin! I missed you!”

Happy to see her elder brother again, Elyse leapt into Shin’s arms as she welcomed him. Among all the orphans, the one Shin had doted on the most growing up was Elyse. Even when he left for Chilyoja Waypoint, the one who cried the most wasn’t Ariel or Emma, but the chubby little girl in his arms. He had promised to send her sweets every month, but even that wasn’t enough to fill the gap left in her heart.

“Come on, Elyse. You’re already eleven! You’re also a Spirit Practitioner now! You can’t be asking for hugs so often!”

Lightly chiding the sapphire-haired girl in his arms, Shin tapped on her shoulders, asking Elyse to let go of him. After last year’s Spirit Awakening ceremony, the three orphans shocked everyone when Max awakened an earth elemental Spirit while Elyse and Fionn both awakened a wind elemental Spirit. Initially, it was thought that all the orphans were products of the previous Clan Master’s plan to boost the strength of the Frie Clan by adopting abandoned children who were proficient in the water elements. However, through last year’s Spirit Awakening Ceremony, it was evident that it was not the case, causing all of the orphans to ponder on the weird fact.

Nonetheless, there were no resources or teachers diverted from their division just because of the fact. If anything, there were more resources poured into developing the orphans due to the increment of Spirit Users in the group.

“Why can’t I hug you? I missed you a lot!”

Puffing out her cheeks, the adorable little creature in Shin’s arms protested his words with a pout. Although there was only a two year age gap between the two children, Elyse behaved as if there were a four or five-year gap. From young, she had been spoilt rotten by Shin, and she only acted this way in front of the black-haired youth.

“Fine, fine… Emma, how have you been?”

Finally giving up, Shin let Elyse remain in his embrace and stroked her hair. Massaging the nape of the little girl while she purred in bliss, Shin addressed the other person who had ran up to greet him.

“I’m fine. I just advanced into Rank 8 a few weeks back!”

With her hands behind her back, Emma jubilantly folded her feet on top of each other as she replied the youth. Evidently, she had been proud of her accomplishment and wanted Shin to praise her. It had to be said that advancing seven ranks in three years was quite a feat. On average, youths of the Frie Clan advance two levels every year and only the cream of the crop could beat that advancement rate.

When Junius became a Spirit Apostle in four years, others in the Frie Clan lauded the orphan programme for bringing in such a talented youth, but that wasn’t entirely true. Sure, Junius was talented, but he was not overwhelmingly gifted as compared to the other elite younglings in the Frie Clan. It was a combination of his personal hard work and the training regiment set down by the First Elder and the Instructor that facilitated Junius’ rapid growth.

Thus, when the other orphans started to show similar results, it came as no surprise to the other divisions. Following Junius, Lily had quickly promoted into the Spirit Apostle realm with Ryner not trailing that far behind. Even Lia, who was one year older than Shin, was starting to show signs that she could be advancing to the peak of Rank 9 any day now.

Junius, Lily and Ryner all showed one thing in common. They all promoted to the Spirit Apostle realm around the four-year mark. Counting aside the anomaly that was Ariel, the typical Frie Clan youth would take five years to cultivate themselves until the Spirit Apostle realm. It was something the Instructor had prided himself in accomplishing. Unfortunately for their juniors, the Instructor had set the standard for the younger orphans now that he had some idea of how well the orphans could do under his tutelage.

“Ha… ha… Congratulations…”

Seeing her prideful face, Shin laughed bitterly as he did not have the heart to tell her that he had entered the Spirit Apostle realm. He knew how hard every single orphan trained from their letters. Shin did not want to make Emma lose confidence in herself due to his capabilities.

“Hahaha, what’s with that? Nevermind. Come, join us!”

Pulling on the hems of his shirt, Emma led Shin and Elyse, who was still stuck onto the young boy like a koala bear, back to the dining table where the rest of the orphans were. However, before he could even get to his chair, a shrill voice echoed through the cafeteria.

“Wait… Shin! Did you promote?!”

When Ines first saw Shin, she was tempted to rush forward and take hold of the cheeks that she had loved so much. However, she felt like there was something different about the youth but she could not put her finger on what had changed. Only when Emma brought up the topic of cultivation did she think of probing his mana. After all, members of the First Elder’s division were not the sharpest tools in the shed.

What she found was a dense, refined spiritual energy that no Spirit Practitioner could possess. Shocked by the discovery, Ines could not help but holler out in excitement. The other orphans likewise were astounded by Ines’ words. Although they did not utter out a single word, their piercing stares demanded an answer from the abashed youth.

“Yeah…”

““““““““““WHAT?!?!?!”””””””””

A collective shout reverberated through the busy lunch hour cafeteria, stunning all those present.

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