“Absolutely not! Ariel, stop spouting nonsense…”
The First Elder shut down Ariel’s suggestion the instant he heard it. Going to Aldrich’s Keep was not like going for a picnic at the park. There was a real possibility that if Ariel went to the fortress, she would not return.
“Grandpa! You said that for me to progress, I need to garner some real-world experiences and that the tame environment of the Frie Clan might slow my development!”
Of course, Ariel would not back down so easily. As she was training in the path of a warrior, it made no sense that she be stuck around on a mountain, sparring with a bunch of older Spirit Users. They could provide her with a safe environment to slowly nurture her battle capabilities, but that was not the way a warrior should develop. Especially someone of Ariel’s prowess, the best way to train her was to run rampant on the battlefield. It was something that had troubled the First Elder ever since he saw Ariel’s progression speed.
No pond could contain a dragon. For Ariel to truly become the most dominant Spirit User the Frie Clan has ever seen, she must be willing to charge valiantly into hordes of enemies, demolishing anything in her path. In fact, after hearing Ariel’s rebuttal, the old bearded man was somewhat tempted to let her go as there was really nothing the Frie Clan could offer regarding actual combat experience.
“Wait! Elder, I think Ariel has a point.”
Instead of helping the First Elder deter his granddaughter from going on the reckless path, Ines poured oil into the flames and jumped to Ariel’s defence.
“Since we can’t send reinforcements, we can at least send a small group of individuals under the guise of a training expedition. That way, we will have an insider stationed at Aldrich’s Keep. With someone there, the Frie Clan will be able to accurately determine the size of the threat and take precautions in the event that Aldrich’s Keep falls.”
“Yeah! And what Aunt Ines said!”
Ariel’s scarlet hair flew high in the air as her head rapidly moved back and forth. Obviously, she did not understand half of what Ines had said. Her real motive was to follow Shin. When she heard of the potential perils awaiting Shin, Ariel felt her blood run cold. If the boy she had been playing with since young were to suddenly disappear in a place where she could not see him… Ariel didn’t even want to fathom that thought.
“Hmmm… As ludicrous as it sounds, it might not be that bad of an idea to have someone at Aldrich’s Keep. Furthermore, if we send some Spirit Lords, I’m sure it would bolster the forces at the fort…”
Seeing that her grandfather was seriously considering her suggestion, Ariel tried her best to keep a smile from creeping up her lips. Just before she landed the finishing blow, she suddenly felt a tug on her sleeves.
“Ariel, if you’re worried for me, don’t be. I’ll be with Master. Nothing could possibly happen to me!”
Shin attempted to persuade the rash little girl from making a huge mistake. Like Ariel, he did not want to see one of his closest friends get hurt.
“Shut it, Shin! I’m not doing this for you! If Aldrich’s Keep falls, even I would be affected! I might as well smash some of those savage beasts with my Lava Warhammer before that happens!”
Putting forth a clenched fist, Ariel performed a swinging manoeuvre, demonstrating how she planned to pummel the monsters of the Uncharted Wilderness. At the same time, her resolute eyes stared deep into Shin’s soul. It was a look that Shin had seen many times before. Whenever Ariel made up her mind, she would always show Shin that face.
Realising that any more attempts to persuade her was useless, Shin let go of the passionate girl’s shirt and placed his hands up in the air.
“So grandpa! Let me go with Shin!”
A chilling silence descended upon the room. The First Elder clearly understood the motives of his precious granddaughter. Using the excuse of wanting to train, Ariel would stay at Shin’s side to protect him from any danger. If he was to be entirely honest, no matter from which angle he approached this situation, it seemed that the best course of action was to send Ariel to Aldrich’s Keep with Shin.
Shin was still a prime asset for the Frie Clan, and although Lady Seph had guaranteed her disciple’s safety, there was no way she could keep an eye on Shin round the clock. She would have her own obligations at the fortress, and there will be times where the boy would be left alone. With Ariel around, at least the Frie Clan would have a justification to send a few high tier Spirit Users to protect the two of them. Also, Ariel would get some vital training by clobbering some beasts.
The only thing keeping the First Elder from agreeing with this request was his own fears. Ariel was his last remaining kin left in this world. A keepsake from his deceased son, the elderly man, had sworn to protect every single portion of the girl’s body from harm. Sending her to such a dangerous place ran counter to his oath.
“I can’t say yes right away… I need to report this back to the Clan Master first. Shin, you said that you would be leaving within the week?”
“That’s what senior Lymark told us.”
“Alright, I’ll head back for the mountain right away. Ines, you monitor them while I’m gone. I should be back by midnight.”
Not waiting for the brunette woman’s reply, the elderly man turned into a ray of red light and vanished from the VIP chambers. At his level, travelling to and fro from Chilyoja Waypoint to Frie Mountain took less than ten minutes.
Himmel Empire. Frie Mountain. Main Hall.
“You want to call an emergency Clan Meeting?!”
“Yes, Clan Master.”
In a tall precipice where the fire elements danced with great joy, there lay a small wooden cottage. Surrounded by an array of concrete buildings, the humble abode seems to be somewhat out of place. However, that was what the owner intended the cabin to be like. Being someone of significant influence, the Clan Master had little chances to enjoy the outdoor life. When she was younger, her father had frequently brought her out of the dull, stuffy life of the Frie Clan to enjoy some outdoor air. Longing for some sense of freedom, the Clan Master ordered the construction of this simple cottage so that she could have a place to retreat to in the midst of her tiring life. However, for today, her peace was interrupted by an elderly red-bearded man.
“My apologies for disturbing you during your resting period but this matter is crucial, and I need the Elders to convene.”
Solemnly bowing down to the middle-aged woman, the First Elder pleaded the Clan Master to call for an emergency meeting, something that only someone of her stature could accomplish.
“I’m fine with that but are you sure about calling senior Ash? You two aren’t exactly on speaking terms.”
The Clan Master did not doubt the elderly man’s motives for calling a meeting. She knew that the First Elder would only call for an emergency meeting if the matter he had on hand were of the utmost importance. However, she had her doubts about calling the Second Elder when the two of them are essentially engaged in a cold war.
“There’s no choice. Every Elder must be present. It concerns the survival of the Frie Clan after all.”
“Tell me more…”
Hearing the elder’s words, the Clan Master immediately sent an edict calling for the elders to convene on her position. At the same time, she listened to everything that the First Elder had to say.
One by one, bolts of light shot past the mountain and landed on the courtyard of the Clan Master. Familiar faces such as the Shrine Maiden, the Supply Elder and the Defense Elder greeted the First Elder while confused on why they had been summoned. Slowly, the most prominent figures on the mountain had congregated and awaited the Clan Master’s words with puzzled faces.
Among them, there was a black-faced old man with his head full of reddish-brown hair neatly combed to one side. The moment he locked eyes with the First Elder, he visibly snorted in derision and glanced the other way. The Clan Master sighed as she looked down at her subordinates. Although she had just called them to gather, the elders had almost evenly split among themselves, forming two divisions with a clear line separating the both of them. Never had the estrangement between the two factions been so visibly evident. Shaking her head, the Clan Master began to levitate above the rest of the crowd and projected her voice out loud.
“My fellow brethren, I have called for this emergency meeting because the Frie Clan is going to face a crisis soon.”
Recounting everything that the First Elder had said to her, the Clan Master explained everything. From how Aldrich’s Keep was going to fall and the First Elder’s plan to send Ariel with Shin alongside some top tier fighters of the Frie Clan to monitor the situation.
“So, what do you guys think?”
Still floating in mid-air, the Clan Master sharply stared at her fellow clan mates.
“I think it’s a great idea! If Aldrich’s Keep were to be run over by beasts, Frie Mountain wouldn’t be unaffected. Since we can’t directly send reinforcements, that plan would be the best alternative.”
“Yeah, that sounds good!”
The general consensus on the matter was rather unanimous. The best case scenario was that Aldrich’s Keep could successfully purge the horde of beasts by themselves, but if that was not going to happen, it made sense to add precautions.
“Alright then. I suggest that we send four children and two Spirit Lords. Since Shin and Ariel have already been confirmed, senior Edward. I’ll trouble you to find two more participants. For Spirit Lords, I recommend Ines and…”
At that moment, a bony hand raised itself from the crowd. His raspy voice turned the heads of every single elder in the courtyard as the elderly man’s vibrant red robes fluttered with the wind when he walked forward.
“Do you have an issue with my arrangements, senior Ash?”
“Not at all, I too believe that we should send some forces over to the Keep. However, do you really think that one team is enough?”
The Second Elder debated if only sending four children were sufficient.
“Are you suggesting we send more children to Aldrich’s Keep?”
“Yes. To make our plan more believable, shouldn’t we send a larger group of trainees over to participate in the purge?”
“How many do you suggest then?”
“Eight would do. Four from Edward’s division. Four from mine.”
The First Elder’s eyebrows rose as he heard those words. Never in his life did he think that the Second Elder would be so compliant. However, the more obedient he was, the more the First Elder felt that something was amiss. But he could not just outright reject the Second Elder’s suggestion.
“In that case, we must add more Spirit Lords.”
“Yes. Of course, I will choose the best of the best from my division to join the expedition.”
Although the Clan Master was reluctant, she still nodded in approval.
“Enfen, I mean Clan Master! I have a suggestion.”
The Shrine Maiden, who had been silent all this while, suddenly shouted out.
“Why don’t I join that expedition? Although I’m a Spirit King, my Spirit is an auxiliary one. I’m sure the military wouldn’t mind me there.”
If possible, the Clan Master would rather send proper reinforcements at the Spirit King level, to help bolster the defences of Aldrich’s Keep. However, if the Frie Clan fielded such a force, the general of the Keep might misunderstand and think that the clan was planning a hostile takeover when the soldiers were at their weakest.
“Lien… You don’t have to do that. I’m sure you are swamped with work at the Shrine.”
“Clan Master. Before I’m the Shrine Maiden, I’m a member of the Frie Clan. Am I to sit back and do nothing in times of crisis?”
The Shrine Maiden’s stared straight at her long-time friend with an unwavering gaze. Finally giving up, the Clan Master acquiesced.
“Hah… If that’s your wish…”