Book 3: Aldrich’s Keep || Chapter 15: The Elite Squad Assembles (1)

The emergency meeting finished just as abruptly as it began. Members of the Frie Clan that followed the Second Elder immediately dispersed as soon as their leader left. The remaining Elders gave the Clan Master and the First Elder a short farewell before returning to their daily lives. After all, it was still the middle of the day, and they all had their tasks to complete. The Shrine Maiden similarly bade her farewells and flew out of the courtyard. Since she was going to be leaving the Mountain for an indefinite amount of time, she had to make sure that all duties in the Shrine were assigned.

“Are you sure about sending Ariel to Aldrich’s Keep? It’s going to be dangerous there.”

Now that the emergency meeting had concluded, only two figures were left in the courtyard. Looking at the First Elder, the Clan Master could tell that the once valiant warrior of the Frie Clan was totally jaded. His wrinkles had become more and more defined and his hair, which was usually wholly reddish-brown, had strands of silver hair popping out.

“Honestly, I still don’t want to… But what can I say? That lass is adamant about going. I’m certain that even if I forbid her from going, she would sneak out in the middle of the night and ride to the Keep herself.”

Falling onto a stone bench, the elderly man recalled the resolved face of his granddaughter. Smiling wryly, the First Elder thought of many scenarios in the past where his son, Ariel’s father, had shown him that expression.

“Hoho, is her dependence on that boy so deep? It seems like your grandson-in-law has already been decided!”

Relaxing her facial muscles, the Clan Master took a seat next to the fatigued old man and started to tease him.

“What can I do? In fact, I’ll be happy if those two really got together. I mean, right now, could you think of any other candidate for Ariel’s husband?”

“T-that…”

Hearing that question, the Clan Master became tongue-tied. Faces of the younger generation all popped into her mind. Linus, Leon, Junius, Ryner and basically any junior around Ariel’s age. Most of them were talented Spirit Users, however, if they were compared to the Frie Clan’s little freak, they could only be described as subpar.

“Not to mention, other than Shin, who else could deal with Ariel?”

Ariel was perhaps the most violent of all the girls in the Frie Clan. Since her Spirit Awakening Ceremony, when she first showed the world that she possessed a Spirit that triggered a natural phenomenon, many parents had urged their sons to chase the fiery little girl.

From then onwards, Ariel would have a line of suitors aged ten to eighteen, of all shapes and sizes, knocking on her door every few days. However, their efforts were for nought. Whenever Ariel saw those boys, she thought that they were there to challenge her in a battle. Therefore, she would summon the primal Lava Warhammer and scare them off, causing a ridiculous rumour to be formed.

‘If you want to date Ariel, you must first defeat her in battle.’

That tale spread across the Mountain like wildfire and soon, even Shin and Junius, who were staying far away, heard about the rumour. When Ariel first listened to that rumour, she just laughed it off as a bad joke, but when she seriously thought about it, the scarlet-haired girl realised that she would not accept a husband that she deemed unworthy anyway.

Excited about the prospects of their child climbing up the ladder, parents would send their sons into the lion’s den to spar with the beast. Unfortunately, many of those who faced Ariel, never returned unharmed. Even as a Spirit Practitioner, Ariel was able to beat many Spirit Apostles with relative ease. After all, the might of the Lava Warhammer was one of the top Spirits of its kind. Adding the fact that Ariel’s raw physical power easily tops any regular teenagers, not one person who challenged Ariel actually succeeded.

“You’re right… Haha, with Ariel’s hot-blooded nature, only Shin could possibly hope to reign her in.”

“Hah… No matter how much you keep a girl at home, there will come a day where she’ll be independent. Ariel’s already thirteen, she’s beginning to morph into a young woman. I can’t hold her hand forever…”

Staring into the sky, the old man seemed to have aged a decade as he thought of his precious granddaughter. The Clan Master beamed in delight as she said:

“Ariel and Shin will be the future of our clan. Once they wed, it would signify a new beginning for the Frie Clan. That would be something worth celebrating.”

“Haha, that’s still a long way down the road. For now, we should focus on strengthening the Frie Clan should Aldrich’s Keep falls. Would the treasury be fine if we purchase some defence mechanisms from the Capital?”

“We still have access cash from our last sale so we should be fine. I think that we should…”

Putting aside the idle talks, the Clan Master and First Elder discussed the various ways the Frie Clan could arm themselves for the upcoming disaster.

~~~

Himmel Empire. Chilyoja Waypoint. The Mushinkei.

Straight after the First Elder disappeared from their sights, Shin and the other orphans continued to catch up on the missing time that they had. The orphans had a rare opportunity to leave the mountain while Shin was let off early by Lady Seph. Thus, alongside Ariel, the young teenagers roamed the streets of Chilyoja Waypoint while shopping and playing.

After Ariel, the richest person among the group was Shin, due to his high monthly stipends and frugal spending habits. Taking advantage of their cash cow, Elyse and Emma appealed to the black-haired youth so that they could purchase some of their favourite sweets. The older orphans, such as Lily and Ryner, did not want to extort money from their junior and could only give a slight pout. Seeing his fat money pouch thinning, Shin could just sigh. He did not know what to do with his money anyway. If buying some items could make his loved ones happy, Shin didn’t mind spending a hefty sum.

“Shin, buy me this necklace!”

A cheerful voice sounded out from the side of the black-haired youth. Ariel, who was standing in front of a roadside store, held out a small piece of amethyst attached to a silver chain. The small piece of stone had a small number of black spots littered in it, suggesting that it was nowhere near as pure as it was supposed to be.

“Ariel, aren’t you richer than me? Can’t you buy this yourself?”

Shin had no qualms when it came to spending money for the orphans. Back on Frie Mountain, many members of the younger generation weren’t given proper allowances and could only make money through missions handed out by the upper management. The orphans fell into that category. Thus, it made sense that weaker Spirit Users like Elyse or Emma were as poor as a church mouse. Ariel, on the other hand, was a direct descendant of a High Elder, whose authority is second only to the Clan Master. Generally speaking, Ariel should be loaded with cash.

“Isn’t it more novel if the boy buys jewellery for the girl?”

“How is that novel?! That’s sexist!”

“Please? It’s the first time I have asked for you to buy something!”

“Huh?”

Shin was taken aback by Ariel’s words. In all these years of knowing her, the number of times she used the word please could be counted with one hand.

“Is there something special about this necklace.”

“T-t-that! Just buy it for me, please!”

Ariel blushed furiously as she stomped her feet on the concrete ground. There was no way that she could say that the amethyst stone in the middle of the necklace reminded her of a certain black-haired boy. With the necklace firmly grasped in her hands, Ariel handed it to the lady tending the store.

“I want this please!”

“You have a good eye, miss! This product was crafted by the best artisan in the town and was mined from a quarry sitting above a Spirit Vein. The person who designed this necklace had forged this necklace with extreme care thinking about giving it as a gift to his beloved wife. Unfortunately, his significant other had passed away before he completed crafting the necklace. With a heavy heart, he unwillingly sold the item to me, hoping that it would land in the hands of its rightful owner. And from the looks of it, I think that would be you!”

Being a small roadside store, the saleswoman had to spout out a bunch of lies and flattering words to make a sale. The necklace that Ariel had picked out was most definitely not crafted by the best artisan in the town, and the amethyst stone was not mined from a Spirit Vein. Nonetheless, it was still a beautiful piece of amethyst making her story somewhat believable.

“I-is that so! Then how much would this be?”

Ariel’s eyes glistened when she heard that there was such a romantic story behind the random piece of jewellery that she had picked out. The value that she placed on the rock had instantly shot up after hearing the touching story.

“Hmmm, I usually don’t do this, but you suit the necklace too much… How about this, I’ll give you a discount. One silver coin!”

Knowing that she had a customer caught hook, line and sinker, a devious smile crept up the saleswoman’s face. From Ariel’s outfit, she could deduce that her customer was part of the upper class and instantly put forth a price that was outlandish for a necklace of that quality.

“One silver?! You might as well rob a bank!”

Shin shouted out at the absurd quote that the store vendor gave. After living in the town for some time, he had understood how the market works. Roadside stores such as this one tend to overprice their items to compete with the legitimate ones, and if an ignorant traveller came, they would jack up the prices even further.

“That stone is at most ten copper at Keystone Jewellers!”

“Tskkk…”

The saleswoman clicked her tongue after finding out that Ariel had a local who was guiding her. Keystone Jewellers was the most dominant shop selling gems in Chilyoja Waypoint. An amethyst in that condition would only fetch ten coppers in that store if they even bothered to sell it at all.

“Fine! How about fifty coppers?”

“Nope! Ten coppers!”

Giving up the charade, the shop vendor offered to sell at a much lower price. However, Shin was not satisfied with the quote and continued to bargain.

“How about forty coppers?”

“Twenty!”

“Alright, alright! I give in! Thirty coppers! That’s my final offer. If you won’t take it, just leave and don’t bother my business!”

“…”

Ariel was speechless on the exchange that had just happened. The kind and friendly store woman had instantaneously turned into a venom-spewing shrew.

“Fine then…”

Taking out thirty copper coins from his pouch, Shin claimed the item from the hands of the saleswoman and entrusted the necklace to Ariel. With a bright smile, Ariel clutched the newly bought jewellery and kept it close to her chest.

“Thank you…”

“Y-yeah…”

Seeing Ariel so benign was something foreign to the young boy. Scratching his head, Shin looked away as the rest of the orphans, who saw the couple’s interaction from start to finish, snickered in amusement.

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