Lia, who was just about to slurp on a mouthful of noodles, spat out all the contents in her mouth as she choked. Grasping onto a nearby tablecloth, her long dark blue hair got entangled in the mess as she desperately tried to prevent fluids from overflowing out from her nose. Likewise, Lily’s hands trembled as her chopsticks dropped straight to the floor. At that moment, all the orphans shared the same stunned expression.
“You have promoted to the Spirit Apostle realm? W-when?”
Ryner struggled to comprehend the facts that had been presented to him. Over the years, he had toiled perilously to advance even a single step forward. He knew that amongst the older generation of the orphans, he was the least talented and thus, he had to work doubly as hard. Now that, Shin, whom he was not that close to, had said that he cultivated ten ranks in a little under three years, Ryner did not know what to think of it.
Although Shin knew that he was going to get grilled on his promotion, the blaring stares were still agonising to endure.
“Wah!!! Congratulations, Shin!”
Elyse tightened her grip on the black-haired youth’s waist when she heard of the news. She certainly knew what a tremendous accomplishment it was to promote within three years. In recent years, only Ariel was able to pull off this feat, and that was with the full-on support of the Frie Clan. Shin did not have that luxury. Thus, even though he promoted two weeks later than the fiery young teen, it did not mean that he was any less gifted.
“The hell?! Shin, you promoted?!?! Arghhh, how could I lose to a guy like him!”
Indignant that the lazy bum that she knew had surpassed her, Ella rubbed the temples of her forehead to soothe a headache that she was getting. Being twins, Ella and Emma grew up looking exactly the same. Therefore, to help others differentiate them, Ella decided to go with a bob cut while Emma let her purple hair flow down indefinitely. Although Emma still had the little mole on her face that helped to tell the twins apart, as she grew older, the mole became less and less prevalent.
The remaining orphans, Max, Fionn and Jacob, gave Shin a silent puzzled look. Max and Fionn had just begun their cultivation path a year ago so that both knew how hard it was to advance. On the other hand, Jacob had yet to awaken his Spirit and did not understand what the commotion was about.
“Shin, did Lady Seph teach you a new spiritual ability?”
“Yeah, I learnt ‘Heal…’”
“WHAT?!?! YOU ALREADY LEARNT ‘HEAL’?!”
Unable to hold back her agitation, Ines cried out in a voice best described as a terrified shriek.
“Oh god, I have to report this to the Elder!”
Usually, after the First Elder brought the orphans to Chilyoja Waypoint, he would retreat into his chambers and not meddle with the affairs of the younger generation. Hence, the instant he entered the Mushinkei, the elderly man disappeared from sight, even to the extent of skipping lunch.
“Ah! If that’s the case, Senior Ines. Could you take me with you? I’m going to leave the town soon, and it is best if I informed him.”
“What do you mean?!”
This time, instead of Ines, Ariel shouted out from his side.
“Master is leaving for Aldrich’s Keep to assist with the upcoming purge, so I have to follow her there. I don’t know how long I would be gone so it would be best for me to inform the Elder about it.”
“Huh? Is there something wrong with Aldrich’s Keep?”
Unaware of the tremendous threat that the fortress was facing, Ines blankly asked Shin for information.
“It’s a long story… Why don’t we meet up with the Elder first so that I don’t have to explain it twice?”
“Good point. You guys, continue with your dinner. Shin, follow me.”
Ines gestured for the rest of the orphans to continue on with their meal as she pulled on the black-haired boy’s arm. However, after hearing such ominous words, every single child present had lost their appetite. Clearing their trays, Lily acted as their spokesperson and said:
“We’re following you! We also want to know about Aldrich’s Keep!”
With resolute eyes, the orphans collectively stood up.
Ines knew that the orphan division were all a tightly-knitted bunch that would not stand down when one of their brethren was in trouble. Thus, when she heard that they wanted to follow her, Ines didn’t bother to convince them otherwise. Swiftly exiting the cafeteria, the group returned their silverware and headed for the First Elder’s chambers.
The Mushinkei residential area had multiple rooms each uniform in its design. However, at a remote corner of the topmost floor, there were two VIP rooms that were only accessible for Elders of the Frie Clan. Although it was partly due to their higher status, the main reason why those two chambers were built was that of their cultivation level. Elders of the Frie Clan were at minimum, Rank 60 Spirit Kings and whenever they practised their cultivation, the spiritual energies surrounding them would run amok, causing terrible repercussions for those whose cultivation levels weren’t up to par.
Therefore, the two VIP rooms were built with the most powerful of materials and had extremely little openings for mana to seep out. Additionally, unauthorised personnel were not allowed anywhere near these chambers, even if there was no one living there. Even though Shin had lived in the Mushinkei for nearly three years, he had not visited this area on the fifth floor before.
When the group of teenagers first passed through the stone door, they were greeted by a dim and brooding room, that had no windows or any form of exposure to the outside world. The grey walls were painted with beautiful red murals that made the chamber look less dreadful than it really was as a small number of candles barely kept the room lit. On top of a stone bed, there was a wrinkled old man, with a face full of hair, sitting in a lotus position. In a state of trance, the elderly man took short breaths at a time while meditating. Only after Ines gently said his name did the man’s eyelids start to twitch.
“Oh, Ines… What are you doing up here?”
Being broken out of his cultivation state, the First Elder gingerly opened his eyes and scanned his visitors. Among them, was one of his most faithful subordinates. No matter the difficulty, the brunette middle-aged lady would do her utmost best to complete the mission assigned to her. However, at this stage of her life, all the First Elder hoped for was that she find a good bloke to settle down with.
Together with Ines was his beloved granddaughter that he had showered with love since young. Behind her were the orphans that he had brought over from Frie Mountain to visit Chilyoja Waypoint. And in the midst of all of them, there was a black-haired teenager, no older than thirteen. Shin had grown slightly since the last time they met, so it wasn’t hard to recognise the boy he had favoured.
“Oh, Shin. You’re here too. It’s been a while…”
Sensing that something was amiss, the First Elder got off from the stone bed and slowly examined the young boy that he had not met in a year. It took him a while but eventually…
“Shin! You became a Spirit Apostle?!”
At this point, Shin could only roll his eyes that the surprised expression that everyone had given him. Ariel did it. Ines did it. The other orphans did it. Now even the First Elder. However, he kept his opinion to himself and gave a slight nod.
“Hahaha! That’s terrific! We should go and celebrate!”
“About that, Elder. You should hold back on the festivities… Shin has something to say.”
Handing over the attention to Shin, Ines prompted the young boy to tell his story. Therefore, Shin started recounting everything. From how Lymark came into Yakkyoku Clinic severely injured, to the tale of beasts beginning to overrun the warriors of Aldrich’s Keep and how they needed a well-established healer to be there due to the lack of manpower.
While Shin was explaining everything he knew, the rest of the orphans kept mum. Ariel rested her body on the wall, with her hands supporting her chin. Her crystal clear eyes started to become muddy as she thought of Shin’s departure. After all, from what the boy had said, once he left, he wouldn’t know when he would return.
“I get the gist of the situation…”
Finally completing his story, a grim atmosphere descended upon the room. Based on Shin’s story, Aldrich’s Keep was in severe danger of falling. If that were to happen, not only would the innocent citizens of the Himmel Empire be in peril but even prominent family clans like the Frie Clan would not be spared from the onslaught.
“Grandpa! If that’s the case, shouldn’t we send support?! The Uncharted Wilderness is not that far from Frie Mountain!”
Ariel cried out. Truth to be told, the young teenager had a point. Since the Frie Clan headquarters was extremely close to the Uncharted Wilderness, if Aldrich’s Keep falls, there might be a chance that a mighty beast would roam near the mountain. However, instead of agreeing with her suggestion, both the First Elder and Ines wore a dark frown.
“We can’t do that, Ariel. Being part of the Himmel Empire, we must follow the Himmel Empire rules. Unless there is an Emperor’s edict, no family clan must get involved with military affairs. Since the Frie Clan had not received any reports from the Imperial family or the government, there is no way we could send reinforcements.”
To prevent the family clans from growing too big and wielding too much control in the empire, ancestors of the Imperial family laid down this ironclad law. Should a family clan disobey this rule, they would run the risk of an entire army being sent to their doorstep.
“Even though we want to help, due to that law, we aren’t able to. Hah… All we can do is hope that the warriors at the fort are capable enough to deal with the threat. Shin, when you’re over there, you must be careful.”
When the First Elder learnt that Shin had begun on the path of the healer, he instantaneously understood why Lady Seph accepted the request. What better way to train a healer than to place him on a battlefield, where injuries ran rampant. Since the famed Lady Seph was with the youth, the First Elder could be assured of the Shin’s safety.
A cute, energetic voice sounded out. Turning their attention to the scarlet-haired little girl lying on the wall, everyone in the room waited for Ariel to say her next words.
“Grandpa! I want to follow Shin!”