Book 3: Aldrich’s Keep || Chapter 28: The Uncharted Wilderness (1)

The Uncharted Wilderness. Spanning over fifty million square kilometres, it was the only place in the vast Terre Continent that man had yet to fully map out. Covering the entire western front, the Uncharted Wilderness was home to Spirit Beasts of all shapes and sizes. From Tier 1 Spirit Beasts that could barely harm anyone to a Primordial Beast that could easily threaten to take down an entire country. Due to the extreme dangers of the woodlands, soldiers from the Himmel Empire were only allowed to enter the Uncharted Wilderness with an experienced guide and were barred from venturing out of the designated paths that had been set.

Typically, bringing in young Spirit Users to train in the Uncharted Wilderness would be borderline insane. After all, no one could accurately predict what dangers that they would be facing that day. However, with Lady Seph, the Shrine Maiden and four Spirit Lords escorting the youths of the Frie Clan, Shin and the others would be more than safe as they hunt Spirit Beasts.

“This place is so eerie…”

Ella whispered to the black-haired youth walking by her side. Although dawn had broken a few hours earlier, very little light broke through the canopy layer giving the woodlands a bizarre atmosphere. With every bush rustling, their minds spun wildly as the imagined the worst, greatly amusing the seniors who escorted them.

“Don’t worry, Ella! I will protect you from any Spirit Beasts!”

Ariel, as if immune to fear, proudly proclaimed while tapping her chest. Ella’s tense facial features relaxed a little after hearing the scarlet-haired girl’s words and a bitter smile crept up her face. If Ariel was a young man, Ella might have fallen for her right then and there.

“Hahaha, thank you, Ariel. You’re much more reliable than this lazy ass over here!”

“Who are you calling lazy?! I’m much more hardworking than you okay!”

“No way! Who slept through training sessions fifty per cent of the time?”

“That’s ancient history alright?!”

“Yeah, yeah…”

Rolling her eyes at Shin’s declaration, Ella adorably pouted her lips and folded her arms in akimbo. Shin, on the other hand, was exasperated at being called lazy. If Ella could see the number of hours he spent on studying and physical training, there would be no way she would call him slothful.

“Hehehehe, I’ve missed this!”

Emma giggled in joy after seeing the two teens interact. Back on the mountain, Shin and Ella would continuously bicker over every small little thing. Once, they fought for almost a full hour on who got to eat the last desert and in the process of their quibble, the desert simply melted away.

“Well, Shin and Ella do get along quite well…”

Squinting her eyes, Ariel’s gaze moved between her childhood friend and the girl that he was squabbling with. Similarly, Bingbing popped her head out of Shin’s robes and stared at Ella.

“W-what?”

The two glares that Ella was receiving made her skin crawl.

“Nothing…”

“*Yip!* *Yip!*.”

While the girls of his group were busying eying down one another, Shin’s mind went blank as he looked at the elderly blonde woman who was leading their expedition. In the morning, before they left the Keep, Shin wanted to report his achievements at the sick bay to his Master but, Lady Seph didn’t seem to care about his presence and was lost in deep thought. Assuming that she was just feeling tired, Shin thought little of it. However, even after entering the Uncharted Wilderness, Lady Seph had not exchanged a single word with Shin, greatly worrying the youth. It was the first time Shin had seen his Master act so strange.

‘Something must have happened yesterday when Master met the General…’

Shin thought out in his mind. Currently, Lady Seph was wearing a stern expression with her brows furrowed and her nostrils flared. Her fingers were rapidly tapping on her folded arms, while her entire body posture was tensed up. Typically, if Lady Seph were angry, she would simply explode and send a surge of mana to incapacitate the person who annoyed her. However, this time, she was acting like a pent-up volcano. Wanting to erupt but simply without the means to yet.

Standing next to her, there was a blonde knight, in full silver body armour, guiding the elderly woman through the forest. Commander Alwig, the one who had so expertly displaced a Beast Horde almost single-handedly, was assigned to be Lady Seph’s guide as they traversed the Uncharted Wilderness. To send the Keep’s second-in-command as a mere guide seemed to be overkill but it went to show how vital Lady Seph was to General Anmac.

Ines and Marric led Shin and the three girls while Songath and Slystan escorted Linus, Leon and the other two Spirit Apostles sent from the Second Elder’s division. With a fighting force this powerful, even a Primordial Beast would think twice before recklessly attacking them.

“Senior Ines, Senior Marric, may I walk with my Master? There is something I have to ask her…”

Shin, unable to shake the feeling of unease that he had, decided to confront Lady Seph.

“Hmmm? Sure you can!”

Although taken aback at first, Marric flashed a broad smile before agreeing to Shin’s request. After all, he didn’t have the authority to ban Shin from meeting his Master. Songath and Slystan, the two Spirit Lords that were handpicked by the Second Elder, snorted in derision as they saw the black-haired youth being so overly friendly with those from their clan but they didn’t dare to start anything.

Their displeasure didn’t go unnoticed though. Linus and Leon clearly saw how the two seniors of theirs hated Shin. However, they were unable to understand why.

“Brother Leon, I know this might come a little late but, why do all the adults in our division hate Shin?”

Linus whispered softly into Leon’s right ear. He knew that his grandfather and the First Elder were at odds and the Frie Clan members that have pledged allegiance to them would occasionally butt heads whenever they met. However, those squabbles didn’t reach the level of resentment that they had against the orphans, notably Shin. Linus had seen the way some adults from his immediate surroundings look at the black-haired boy. It was as if they were looking at a piece of dung that barred their path.

“I don’t know… I was hoping you would know… I don’t understand it either. Remember the Elder told us to note down Shin’s abilities during this trip to see if he would become a potential threat? No matter how I see it, Shin’s amazing healing powers would only serve to benefit the Frie Clan. Did you know that he caused an uproar in the sick bay yesterday?”

“No… What happened?”

“Shin appeared in the sickbay and started to treat patients left and right. Because of that, a name had begun to circulate in the Keep. They’re calling him the youngest healer in history!”

Leon was in a similar position to Linus. Although since they were younger, he was ordered by the Second Elder to make the orphan’s lives miserable, as he matured over the years, he felt that it was a detrimental move. The Frie Clan is in a severe shortage of healers right now so why should they make one of their most talented healer unhappy with the clan? Logically speaking, they should be fawning over Shin, begging him to stay in the clan rather than trying their best to chase him out.

“Youngest healer in history? Is that true?”

Linus’ eyes widened as he heard the news. To hold such a title was every hot-blooded child’s dream.

“It should be… Why would they lie? Hah… I really don’t know what the Elder is thinking. Is it really worth it to antagonise the First Elder just for the sake of Shin and the orphans?”

“…”

Linus and Leon are part of a silent minority in the Second Elder’s division that disagrees with his views about the orphans. However, there was no way that they could publically come out and say that. Even Linus, who was the one closest to the Second Elder, didn’t understand why the adults in his division have such a burning hatred of the orphans.

“Hah… Whatever, we’ll just see how it goes… What’s more important is that we ensure that Aldrich’s Keep doesn’t fall…”

Sighing, Leon rubbed Linus’ hair as he stared at Shin walking over towards Lady Seph. For now, the most pressing issue was for the Keep to remain standing so that powerful Spirit Beasts would not threaten the area surrounding Frie Mountain.

~~~

“Master…”

“Hmmm? Oh, Shin… What’s wrong?”

The black-haired youth pulled his Master’s robes to gain her attention. Thankfully, this time, she responded to his call.

“Master, is something bothering you? You’re not behaving like you usually would…”

“*Yip!* *Yip!*.”

As if agreeing with Shin, Bingbing squealed out loud, drawing the attention of both Commander Alwig and the Shrine Maiden, who were standing behind the elderly woman.

“Hahaha, looks like I can’t hide much from you two… Yeah, it’s a long story but to put it simply, some assholes have messed with something that they should not have.”

“Messed with something? What is it?”

“Something man should never ever do…”

Lost in her cryptic speech, Shin tilted his head in confusion. Sensing that Lady Seph didn’t wish to continue her explanation lest she gave out too much information, the only other person who knew of the elderly woman’s thoughts, Commander Alwig, butted in the conversation.

“Hi there, you must be Shin! The Lady’s esteemed disciple! I’m Alwig!”

Reaching out his hand, the Spirit King put forth an amiable smile and sought for a handshake with the black-haired teen. Stunned by the knight’s sudden gesture, Shin’s hands started to quiver as he accepted the handshake.

“Hi…”

“Hahaha, don’t be so nervous! In fact, I’m the one who’s supposed to be nervous! I’m meeting the youngest healer in history after all!”

Evidently, the nickname that Shin had gained spread like wildfire after his actions at the sick bay yesterday. Even the high and mighty Commander Alwig heard of that moniker.

“Hah… If only the Empire’s younger generation of healers had half your talent… Back at the Imperial Military Academy, I rarely got the chance to meet any healers because of how scarce they were!”

“Imperial Military Academy?”

Hearing the unfamiliar term, Shin wore a puzzled expression.

“You’ve never heard of Imperial Military Academy?! It’s where we send the most talented youths to train! Hmmm, in fact, why don’t I write you a recommendation letter? I’m sure the principal would be delighted to accept you!”

Casually tossing out a suggestion, Commander Alwig began poaching for talents. The military was currently recruiting gifted enlistees, and Shin was precisely what they needed. Naturally, his thoughtless words were met with wrath from both Lady Seph and the Shrine Maiden.

“Shut the hell up, Alwig! I’m not letting Shin into the military!”

“That’s right! Shin belongs to our Frie Clan! We can’t let you take him!”

“*YIP!* *YIP!*.”

Comically, the one with the most extreme reaction was a certain snowy white gerbil. Baring her fangs and claws at the charming knight, Bingbing threatened to bite the man’s head off he said another word.

“Woah, Woah! Just making small talk! Don’t get so up in arms about it!”

Raising his two hands, Commander Alwig wore a defeated expression, seeing that his attempt to gain a new talent for the military had failed.

“Never joke about that again, Alwig…”

“I got it… I apologise, my Lady…”

“Hah, good that you know… Anyway, are we reaching the site soon?”

The objective of the expedition today was to investigate the recently crashed defence mechanisms that the Keep had placed. Lady Seph wanted to personally examine the site, and in the meantime, if there are any weaker Spirit Beasts that appeared, the teenagers that were with them could gain their first taste of fighting against one of those vicious Beasts.

“Yes, we are. If we continue on this path, we will be there within fifteen minutes.”

“Good, let us not waste any more time…”

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