Book 3: Aldrich’s Keep || Chapter 26: Awter Lake (1)

The first time that Junius heard of the name Awter, he thought nothing much of it. After all, it was just some foreign name that he had just heard for the first time. However, over time, he began to grow curious about this particular plan. Thankfully, as a constable, he had much more access to information as compared to the average joe. It took him a full three years of investigations to eventually find the map that leads to Awter Lake, and he was stunned by the amount of work he was put through.

The more he researched, the more questions emerged in his mind. Why did the Awter Clan, one of the Himmel Empire strongest, disappear almost overnight? Why was the information about the Awter Clan so tightly kept? Why does no one dare to speak much about the Awter Clan? All these mysteries popped up the more Junius investigated. He was able to gain the answers for some of those questions that he had, but most of them were left unanswered. Therefore, he decided to visit the place where the Awter Clan used to reside in, Awter Lake.

Travelling to Awter Lake was quite simple. Surprisingly, it was rather close to both Frie Mountain and Chilyoja Waypoint. However, once Junius got to the dense forest, he started to get lost in the woods. Thus, when he finally saw the pristine clear blue lake, Junius heaved a massive sigh of relief.

‘Since this used to be the headquarters of the Awter Clan, I’m sure there will be ruins hidden somewhere…’

Junius didn’t have much of a plan when he decided to take the pilgrimage to Awter Lake. He had hoped that once there, he would be able to figure things out. Hopefully discovering a run-down building that housed clues about the fallen clan. Junius had his theories, but since they were outlandish and downright maniacal, he didn’t wish for them to be true. He needed hard evidence to convince himself.

Using the crescent-shaped machete, Junius made a path through the thick branches and bushes while roaming the shores of the lake, in hopes of finding the clues that he had sought. His cotton robes started to get drenched in rancid sweat as he walked around in the blistering hot sun causing Junius to feel extremely uncomfortable. However, he knew he was on a clock. Once night falls, he would be forced to halt his search due to the poor lighting conditions.

After ten minutes, Junius still kept hope that a random ruin would show itself on the rims of this massive lake. After thirty minutes, the viridian-haired youth tried his best to retain his focus as fatigue and boredom piled up. Soon, after an hour of not finding anything, Junius began to harbour doubts about whether he was in the right place. It didn’t make sense that there were no ruins anywhere near Awter Lake, given that it was once a great clan of the Empire.

‘Woah! What’s that?’

Just as he was about to change his search approach, from a distance, Junius saw a patch of mossy earth, protruding unnaturally from the ground. Thinking that he had hit the jackpot, the teenager rubbed off his fatigue and gathered mana into his legs. As a weapon Spirit User that focused on agility, Junius had mastered the craft of body enhancement. Speeding through the rocky shores of the lake, Junius left behind a distinct footprint every time he made contact with the floor.

“Bingo!”

It didn’t take long for him to reach the unusual structure. A triumphant smile crept up his chiselled face, revealing its adorable dimples that would make any teenage girl swoon. Just as he suspected, Junius was greeted with a half-demolished building that stood solitary on the shores of the lake.

Abandoned for god knows how long, the destroyed construction only retained less than half of its structure, leaving verdant life to reclaim the land that it once stood on. Thick tree vines entwined themselves on the concrete pillars while terrestrial ferns grew from the exposed cracks of the broken walls. Scented flowers that would have no place growing in a man-made environment thrived in the decrepit old building, giving it a specific natural colour.

‘This must be one of the buildings developed by the Awter Clan. It seems strange that there is only one of them here…’

Although Junius was disappointed that there wasn’t a large number of buildings for him to search, beggars couldn’t afford to be choosers. Starting his search, Junius hoped to find clues that pertained to the Awter Clan and help rest the crazy thoughts that he had in his head. Unbeknownst to the viridian-haired youth, the moment he stepped foot in the run-down building, a hidden shadow traced his steps and monitored his every move. Sending forth a signal for reinforcements, the shadow kept its distance while Junius obliviously continued his search for clues.

‘This must be some sort of watch house or something… There are no bedrooms or housing apparel…’

Walking around the ramshackle shack, Junius tried to identify its previous purpose before it was destroyed. Judging from the fact that there were no beds or anything resembling a place of living, he deduced that it might have been a lookout station. Following that train of thought, he hypothesised that there might be written records laying down somewhere in the building. Going through each room, Junius hoped to find any compartments that could have housed such journals.

It was then, he saw a broken concrete floorboard, that revealed a hidden miniature chamber. Lifting out the lid, Junius was greeted by a multitude of metal boxes that lay on top of each other, all tightly sealed with iron chains and lockets.

‘Finally, some real progress…’

The last major breakthrough that Junius had was finding the location of Awter Lake. Other than that, all previous records of the mysterious clan were wiped clean, and in general, the public kept mum on the topic.

“What the hell is this thing made of?”

Swinging the crescent-shaped machete, Junius attempted to slice through the chains to reveal the contents of the box. However, no matter how hard he hacked and slashed, the shackles remained firmly tied to the metallic crates. Frustrated, the youth gathered his mana in his hand and summoned out the Azure Water Blade. After three years of intensive cultivation and physical training, his Spirit had grown by a few centimetres, and the sharpness of the blade had reached heights that it never could before. Glowing in a radiant light, Junius used the tip of the Azure Water Blade to hopefully pry the box open. Surprisingly, without using much force, the chains binding the crate was quickly cut, and the lid popped open without him prompting it to.

Wearing a victorious smirk, Junius cautiously lifted the aged journals that were so meticulously kept. Although the books were so carefully preserved, many of them had already had lost pages with over half of them already thoroughly burnt out of recognition. Taking advantage of what he was given, Junius began the next stage of investigations on the Awter Clan. Turning to the first page of the records, the teenaged boy started to read its contents out loud.

“Year 790. The month of July. The second day.

Everything is on schedule. Nothing of significant importance happened today.”

Skimming through the pages, Junius continued to read the records of the watch-house. Like any typical sentry station, the contents of the journal were simple. Recording the everyday happenings surrounding the area. As it turned out, in the year 790, the Awter Clan was still in the pink of health and had yet to face its demise.

Picking up another journal, Junius read out from it once more.

“Year 791. The month of March. The fifth day.

Boring~ Wow, why must I keep writing in this bloody journal every single day? It’s not like anyone is going to read this. I would much rather be given a post on the lake than standing guard over here on this stupid shoreline.”

“On the lake?”

As he read the strange yet comical record, Junius raised his eyebrows and fell deep in contemplation. If the Awter Clan had built their homes floating atop of the lake, it made sense for there to be so little ruins surrounding the place the clan called home. Happy that he had some significant advancements, Junius increased his pace and rapidly flipped through the pages.

“Year 791. The month of September. The twentieth day.

Once again, nothing happened today… So damn boring! Am I going to be a sentry guard for the rest of my life? Oh, and I heard that Elder ‘Sword’ is going to become a grandfather soon. I’m sure that his grandchild would be as devastatingly mean as him! Hahahaha!”

“Year 792. The month of April. The eighteenth day.

For the thousandth time, nothing happened today! Arghhh, kill me now. This life is so boring ~ Why was I even given this stupid job? Oh, and I heard that the grandson of Elder ‘Sword’ had just popped up. So I congratulate him, well not like he would ever read this article anyway…”

“Year 793. The month of December. The twenty-sixth day.

The year is ending which means that it should be New Year’s day soon! But why is everyone on the lake so glum lately? They should learn a little from me. I’m just a dumb sentry guard, but I am having the time of my life! Though, it is very boring, scratch that, it’s utterly boring. Arghhh, will I ever get my promotion?”

Somewhere along the road, the person writing the records stopped caring about procedures and had turned the books into his own personal venting journals. Although it was not the definitive proof that Junius was looking for, at least it gave him some information about the Awter Clan. Prying open another metal box, Junius continued reading the journal entries.

“Year 794. The month of May. The seventh day.

A storm is brewing. The Elders have convened multiple times, and our strongest forces had all been recalled. Is there going to be a major upheaval in the future? Day by day, I see our Spirit Kings and Emperors rushing back and forth out of the lake. What’s going on?”

“Year 795. The month of June. The nineteenth day.

Defences have been boosted, and new weaponry had been dragged in from afar. Are we truly going to war with our neighbour? Is this the only way?”

“Year 795. The month of December. The twenty-fifth day.

I can’t take this anymore! Every day, corpses of our comrades are driven in by carts! They are our cousins, our brothers, our sisters, our brethren! Why must this continue? Why must I be the one to check in their bodies? Why… why…”

“Year 796. The month of February. The sixteenth day.

The Clan Master’s wife is pregnant! The Clan Master’s wife is pregnant! Finally, some good news! The morale of our troops has never been higher! With this, I’m sure that we can persevere onwards! We have to. For the future of our offsprings, we must win this war!”

“Year 796. The month of July. The twenty-seventh day.

I can’t take this anymore! I want to return to the boring days that I had earlier on! Am I a sentry guard or an undertaker?! Why must I continue to see the dead bodies of my friends and family?! Why must this war continue?! Can’t we just find some sort of peace? WHY?!?!?!”

“Year 796. The month of September. The twenty-third day.

The heir to the throne is born! The Clan Master’s wife had given birth to a healthy baby boy! If we can just hold on for a few more months, perhaps the Lantis Republic will send in reinforcements! Please, for the sake of our future children. Brave warriors of the Awter Clan, please fight on! Please…”

“Year 796. The month of October. The fifteenth day.

The onslaught continues. I can hear the sounds of troops marching and the scent of charred wood with every passing minute. We have retreated to our shell, must they be so ruthless?! Must everything be burnt to cinders?!”

“Year 796. The month of October. The sixteenth day.

Dear Immortals in the heavens above. Is there no salvation for us? Is this the end of our prideful clan? Not even for the innocent children who bore no sins of their parents?! This might be my final entry ever. If anyone may chance upon my mournful babble, let it be known that I, Ricson Awter, am no coward. Even if I may go down, I will die on the corpses of my fallen enemies!”

With that, Junius had come to the end of the final page of the journal. His hands trembling in fear, his mind could barely register the information that he had just absorbed. The last days of the Awter Clan were tragic. Judging by how little infrastructure remained, one could say that they had been thoroughly wiped clean. Unfortunately, the brave sentry warden that stood guard at this post must have long passed. Clapping his palms together, Junius gave a silent prayer to the brave soldier that had fought valiantly to the very end.

“*Tsssssttt!*.”

“Who’s there?!”

At that moment, a loud rustling of the bushes came from the outside of the building. Carefully placing down the journal entries, Junius summoned out his Azure Water Blade and bolted out into the open shore of the lake. Ten brooding figures, all draped in full black garbs, surrounded the broken-down shack barring any escape routes. Junius, who had been busy reading the sentry guard’s journals, had failed to realise that the enemy had congregated in the area and by the time he left the building, it was too late.

Squinting his eyes, the viridian-haired youth gaped in horror as he realised who he was facing.

“Black Masks!!!”

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