Travelling through the perfectly maintained corduroy roads, the convoy hastily sped towards Aldrich’s Keep. As the pathways were frequently used by the military, the surrounding woods had mostly been cleared in hopes of preventing an unexpected ambush. However, the Himmel Empire’s efforts to clear the land had transformed the landscape into a barren desert that only served to gather dust and sand.
Glancing out of the moving car, Shin let his mind wander as he viewed the desolate terrain that did not change no matter how far they have travelled. Chilyoja Waypoint was long gone from view, and all that he could see at the back was dust clouds formed by the revoluting wheels of the aether cars.
“Shin, what are you thinking about?”
In the luxurious pure black aether car, there were four individuals seated comfortably at the back. Dragging Shin and Ariel into the vehicle, the Shrine Maiden immediately sat directly opposite Lady Seph, afraid of fainting if she was seated right next to her idol. Therefore, that position was firmly reserved for the only person who could somewhat deal with the temperamental elderly woman. Noticing that her disciple was lost in thought, Lady Seph lightly stroked Shin’s silky black hair.
Not wanting to worry his Master, the young teen shook his head causing Lady Seph’s hand to retreat. Caressing the snowy white gerbil on his lap, Shin thought of the numerous possibilities that could happen at the Keep. Although he had brushed off Junius’ warnings, something about the viridian-haired youth’s attitude unnerved him. It was as if Junius knew that the Second Elder was about to order another assassination attempt on Shin. Furthermore, over the years, his stance on the Frie Clan had gradually begun to shift. Initially, even if the Second Elder was up to his usual shenanigans, he would not blame the Frie Clan as a whole. However, in more recent days, Shin could sense a weird atmosphere around Junius, but he was unable to pinpoint what exactly had changed.
“You must be nervous about leaving the clinic. After all, you have been working on it for so long!”
Making a wild guess about Shin’s sudden despondence, Lady Seph thought that her servant, no disciple, had missed Yakkyoku Clinic. Spending hundreds upon hundreds of hours holed up in that building, Shin had been vigourously nourishing the once-decrepit building. Lady Seph hypothesised that since he was leaving it for a newer place, Shin might feel somewhat homesick.
Sighing at his Master’s wild conjecture, Shin picked up Bingbing and proceeded to ignore the blonde elderly woman. Ecstatic at his touch, the white gerbil nibbled his fingers in pure euphoria as it wagged its tail furiously.
“Wow, to think that a Tier 8 beast could be so docile…”
The Shrine Maiden eyes widened when she saw the adorable little gerbil gnawing on the black-haired youth’s fingers. Her pupils dilated as her throat started to dry as she thought of how brave Shin was to allow such a mighty beast to play with his body without any fear of losing a limb. At that moment, her impression of the boy had changed drastically.
“Tier 8 beast? What’s that?”
Hearing the unfamiliar term, Shin tilted his head to the side and questioned the beautiful woman, dressed in a pure white robe.
“What you did not know about the tiers of beasts?”
Surprised that Shin did not know about something so rudimentary, the Shrine Maiden exasperatedly glanced at the blonde woman next to the teen, who was still engrossed in the book that she had brought. Feeling some annoying stares, Lady Seph gingerly moved her head upwards to discover that all of the eyes in the aether car were entirely stuck on her.
“L-lady Seph, not to be rude but did you not teach Shin about the natures of beasts?”
If it were anyone else, the Shrine Maiden would have reprimanded the teacher for not teaching their students on one of the most basic knowledge that every single Spirit User should know. However, in front of her idol, she did not dare to be insolent.
“Ah, must have slipped my mind… Well, back then there wasn’t any need for Shin to know, so I didn’t bother…”
Giving a rather Lady Seph-like answer, the elderly woman shrugged it off as something inconsequential.
“Hah, then Lien you explain it!”
Finding it bothersome to speak, Lady Seph passed the teaching lesson over to the Shrine Maiden, who seemed to be eager to do anything that the elderly woman desired. Bringing her attention back onto the book in her hands, Lady Seph entered into a trance-like state where only she and the book existed.
“We’ve lost her senior… Once Master starts to read a good research paper, it would take her hours to snap out of it…”
Shin had seen that look in his Master’s eyes multiple times. Whenever she stumbles upon a spectacular book, she would become lost in the pages, and it would take a significant effort to drag her back out. Once, when he was busy gathering supplies in the woods, Lady Seph, who was still accompanying him at that time in medicine gathering, entered into a zone where she sat still on a log for multiple hours. Only after endless shouts and begging did the elderly woman snap out of her trance.
“Lady Seph seems… So much different from the stories I’ve heard of her…”
As the old saying goes, never meet your heroes. In the myths that she had heard, Lady Seph was a valiant auxiliary Spirit User, who never backed down in the face of her enemies even though she held the disadvantage. The rumours of her standing up to authority were legendary. One rumour even claimed that she stood up to the acting Emperor of the Himmel Empire, without fear of her head rolling on the floor. When all these aspects were combined, it formed a gallant figure in the depths of the Shrine Maiden’s mind, as Lady Seph served as a role model for all female auxiliary Spirit Users out there. However, the reality was much more different than she had expected. Shaking her head, the Shrine Maiden tried not to overthink it lest the image of the idol in her mind came crumbling down.
“Shin, do you truly not know the tiers of beasts?”
“But you do know that Spirit Beasts do exist right?”
“Of course, I’ve taken on a few before!”
Thinking of the numerous times he faced a Spirit Beast while gathering herbs, Shin firmly nodded.
“Well, Spirit Beasts are basically animals who have been mutated due to long exposure in places with extreme spiritual energies, similar to humans in fact. However, unlike humans, animals do not undergo any sort of awakening ceremony. They just evolve into Spirit Beasts that can create and store mana in their bodies. Once an animal first becomes a Spirit Beast, they would be classified as a Tier 1 Spirit Beast. Equivalent in power to a Spirit Practitioner, Tier 1 beasts are the most common form of beasts.”
Promptly beginning her explanation, the Shrine Maiden took several sneak peaks at Lady Seph while addressing the black-haired youth.
“While human Spirit Users are classified into Ranks 1-100, Spirit Beasts are categorised into Tiers. Tier 1 being the weakest and Tier 9 the strongest. Each tier represents one realm difference. So for instance, a Spirit Apostle like yourself would be similar in power to a Tier 2 Spirit Beast, while a Tier 9 Spirit Beast would be equivalent to a Rank 80 Spirit Venerate.”
“Wait, didn’t you say that Bingbing was a Tier 8 Spirit Beast?! Does that mean her strength is as powerful as a Spirit Emperor’s?!”
Glancing downwards at the adorable little gerbil that seemed to be unable to hurt a fly, Shin eyes quivered in awe, stunned that the animal he had always seen as a pet was actually as powerful as the First Elder or the Clan Master. Even Ariel was greatly taken aback by the revelation and took one hard look at the gerbil. She could not comprehend that her grandfather, whom she had always seen as invincible, was similar in strength to this little animal stationed on Shin’s lap.
As if comprehending what had just happened, Bingbing puffed up her cheeks in pleasure, basking in the awe-stricken gazes of the youths in the car. However, seeing that Shin had stopped patting her belly, the snowy white gerbil used her tail and encircled it on the boy’s wrist. Pulling Shin’s hand closer, Bingbing gave the black-haired a queer look, as if asking him why did he stop. Only after Shin continued to stroke the gerbil did she close her eyes and purred in delight.
“To think that Bingbing was that strong… That explains a lot…”
Thinking back to the various odd occasions where the Instructor was unable to feel the gerbil’s presence or when the First Elder backed off from the snowy white gerbil when she bared her fangs, Shin suddenly began to connect the dots.
“The Tier 8 Spirit Beast that is resting on your lap is commonly known as the Kamaitachi. One of the strongest ice-variant beasts in existence. Don’t be misled by its cute exterior. If need be, they could easily bring down an entire army by itself. Furthermore, once a Spirit Beast reaches Tier 5, they would be able to gain intelligence similar to that of a child. At Tier 9, their intelligence was said to be able to match even the world’s smartest tacticians.”
“So it turns out that you’re actually this amazing, huh?”
Lifting up the snowy white gerbil like he did many times before, Shin concentrated all of his attention on the beast, much to the apprehension of Ariel and the Shrine Maiden.
“Wait, senior! If you said that there are nine tiers with the highest being able to match a Spirit Venerate, does that mean that there are no Spirit Beasts that can contend with a Rank 90 Spirit Saint or even reach immortality?”
“Of course not, you silly child…”
Shin heard a loud thud to the side as Lady Seph slammed her book shut. Interested in the conversation that they were having, the elderly woman was secretly listening in all this while.
“That lass explained that there are nine tiers of Spirit Beasts, but these tiers are actually defined by humans who have observed and recorded the habits of the Spirit Beasts. Although they are fairly accurate, there is one level that no human has ever thread into. That is the level of the Primordial Beasts.”
Reclaiming her partner from Shin’s hands, Lady Seph wore a jubilant smile on her face as she caressed Bingbing lovingly.
“The Primordial Beasts are the strongest creatures to roam the earth, even surpassing many Tier 9 Spirit Beasts and multiple Spirit Saints. The only reason why they are not included in the human-developed tier system is that their might is unfathomable. Some say that they are as strong as Spirit Saints while others claim that they are Immortal Beings that descended upon the material world. For instance, the Celestial Water Dragon, who has been alive since the days of the first water elemental user, was last seen four thousand years ago. If it was a mortal being, how could it survive for that long?”
“If not for the fact that there were Spirit Saints that had brought down Primordial Beasts before, there would be no question that they are descended Immortals…”
As Lady Seph started to discuss about the mighty Primordial Beasts, she became more and more sombre. Staring out of the window, the elderly blonde woman reminisced about the old times while she tried to calm her aggravated heart. Tapping her fingers on her knees, Lady Seph closed her eyes as she said:
“Sorry about that, so yeah. That’s all you need to know about Spirit Beast tiers. It would come in handy at the Keep. We will be fighting a horde of them so it would be good for you to know about all their weaknesses. On that note, Shin. Here’s an encyclopedia of all the known beasts surrounding Aldrich’s Keep. Memorise them for me will you?”
“Of course! If not when would you? We are still quite far from the Keep so it would give you plenty of time to finish reading it.”
Handing over a thick leather book towards the black-haired youth, the elderly woman forced him to study. Ariel, who hated books the most, started to whistle while looking out of the window, afraid that the old shrew might coerce her to do the same.
“But, we’re still on the road! I can’t…”
“No buts. I’ll test you when we reach. Hopefully, you don’t fail. Otherwise…”
Cutting off her speech, Lady Seph shot her disciple a menacing glare.
“Goddamnit… Fine! I’ll do it!”