Aldrich’s Keep was the Himmel Empire’s primary shield against the savage Spirit Beasts of the Uncharted Wilderness, and the main reason that they could do so were the defensive mechanisms that the army had placed inside checkpoints of the spooky woodlands. Typically between one to five kilometres deep, the checkpoints served as both a sentry station and a barrier to keep wandering Spirit Beasts from venturing anywhere near the Keep.
At each checkpoint, there was some necessary weaponry to attack the beasts, but most importantly, it housed a device called the Tlachlo Trap. Named after the person who created this device, the Tlachlo Trap, also known as the Tlachlo Lantern, was a simple lamp that emitted a pungent stench that could only be picked up by Tier 3 Spirit Beasts and above due to their oversensitive noses. Once turned on, it could be used to either deter or attract those beasts based on the needs of the Keep.
Usually, the checkpoints would use Tlachlo Trap to deter Spirit Beasts from roaming near the Keep. However, during the time period of the purge, the reverse setting would be used to initiate a Beast Horde, so that the valiant soldiers of the Keep could clear out potential threats that stayed near the borders of the Himmel Empire.
The real reason why Aldrich’s Keep is facing this crisis was due to the fact that many of their checkpoints which housed the Tlachlo Trap had been burnt to ashes, and the perpetrators had seemed to turn the lanterns on to attract the beasts, causing hordes of them to prowl out from hiding and target the poor citizens living in the fort. Thankfully, the walls of the Keep had been sturdy enough, and the talent defending it was amongst the best in the business. However, even the most stalwart warrior gets tired. In the past few weeks, the Keep has been on high alert since the first day they discovered that the checkpoints were being brought down. Adding to the fact that they had already been through numerous battles, the soldiers were quickly reaching their limits.
Thus, it was imperative for Lady Seph to visit the Keep and agree to work side-by-side with the fatigued fighters to boost their morale and overall optimism that they could survive this crisis. Of course, hiring such an esteemed healer wasn’t without a cost. It could be said that now that she was in the Keep, her authority would only be second to the General himself. Wherever she wanted to go, she went. Whoever she wanted to escort her, would drop down everything that they had to attend to her.
Visiting the most recent fallen checkpoint was something that she had wanted to do the instant she heard the full story. Guessing that the criminals that caused the damage might leave some clues about their whereabouts and motives, Lady Seph ordered that a guide bring her along to the decimated area.
And decimated it was. Charred wood and pitch black ashes were littered all around the small patch of land that was once a checkpoint. The elemental spiritual energies surrounding the area were at disarray signifying that a battle between Spirit Users had once occurred on this flat land. According to the General, the checkpoint towers were usually made of a mixture of enhanced brick and the toughest of woods, capable of withstanding even an all-out attack from a Tier 7 Spirit Beast. For it to go down, and go down that quickly, it must have been an ambush by a coordinated human criminal group.
“When did this checkpoint go down again?”
Lady Seph asked Commander Alwig.
“Three days ago… We wanted to investigate, but then the Beast Horde had already gathered and was ready to attack.”
Whenever there was an attack on the checkpoint, the General would send a team of investigators to gather clues about the assault as soon as possible to avoid possible contamination by weather, wild animals or anything under the sun. Unfortunately, this time a Beast Horde was waiting directly outside of the Keep, preventing them from responding on time.
“Too bad then… Let’s see what we can find.”
Closing her eyes, Lady Seph began to glow in a radiant golden light as a blurry silhouette of a woman dressed in white appeared behind her. Spirit particles congregated around the elderly woman, filling the area with a dense spiritual pressure that bore down on every single soul nearby. Shin, who was used to this sight, remained unfazed but his friends were feeling something drastically different.
Ariel, the twins, Linus and Leon all felt their throats closing up, and the pressure forced them to slightly bend their bodies. As for the higher-level Spirit Users, they were able to merely stand comfortably among the pressure, while marvelling over Shin’s amazing endurance. Commander Alwig especially. Not only was Shin a great healer but his physical attributes were top-notch. If not for Lady Seph’s existence, he would have long dragged the black-haired boy into the military by any means necessary. The blonde elderly woman realised that her actions were improper and immediately lightened the pressure being emitted from the Iofiel Angel, instantly allowing the children around Shin to catch a breath.
“Hah… Hah… Shin, how can you endure that?!”
Ella, who had just received a culture shock from experiencing Lady Seph’s summoning firsthand, questioned the only teen who was unperturbed by the immense pressure.
“Well, if you meet her ‘Light of Love’ every single day, that pressure is nothing.”
Sighing bitterly, the black-haired youth explained his circumstances. After the numerous discipline sessions that Lady Seph had bestowed upon Shin, his endurance for spiritual pressure and pain as a whole had reached an entirely new threshold. In fact, he was confident that he could face the Instructor’s fists head on and not feel as much pain as he did before.
“Oh, I see…”
Feeling sorry for resurfacing her friend’s psychological traumas, Ella tapped the boy’s shoulders while giving him an encouraging smile. Meanwhile, Lady Seph who was oblivious to her disciple’s rants used the Iofiel Angel to scout the vicinity while sending her mana outwards, in search for the smallest of clues.
Lady Seph nonchalantly whispered out. Walking over to a burnt pile of ashes, the elderly woman coated her hand with a thick golden coating and stretched her long fingers down into the ground. It didn’t take long for her to discover her target. Pulling out a blunted shuriken star, Lady Seph used her mana to clean the roasted weapon and raised it high into the air for everyone to see.
“A shuriken star? Why would that be here?”
“Most probably one of the attacker’s weapons… Alwig, you said that there was a Tlachlo Trap situated here. Where would it usually be? And can you tell if it was destroyed or stolen away.”
Lady Seph addressed the only person who knew about the attacks on the checkpoints.
“The attackers’ modus operandi always remains the same. First, they create a distraction by controlling beasts to attack the checkpoint tower. How they commanded the beasts is still a mystery that we have not solved. Secondly, they sneak into the tower and locate the Tlachlo Trap. Once found, they would send all their manpower to either steal and destroy the lantern. Finally, they would burn down the entire checkpoint to cover their tracks.”
“I see… Alwig, keep hold of this and give it to Anmac. I’m sure he has better uses for this compared to any of us here…”
“Of course, my Lady.”
Solemnly nodding while receiving the shuriken star, the original magnificence that the commander had exuded a day prior seemed to have vanished as he turned into an errand boy for the elderly woman.
“Oh, just our luck! Looks like there will be a party soon…”
Staring into the depths of the forest, Lady Seph’s eyes brightened, and her ears twitched as she said those ominous words. Following her gaze, the Shrine Maiden, Commander Alwig and all of the Spirit Lords directed their attention to the quiet and spooky woodlands.
‘As usual, her senses are terrifying!’
After Lady Seph, the first one to discover the oddity was the Shrine Maiden. Approximately five kilometres deeper into the Uncharted Wilderness, the Shrine Maiden could sense a faint disturbance, similar to that of the beast horde that they faced yesterday, albeit on a much smaller scale. Likewise, Commander Alwig noticed the disruption and with one swinging motion, summoned out the silver claymore that obliterated any beasts that it faced.
“Everyone! Summon out your Spirits! We’ve got company!”
Raising his Sword Spirit up to his face, Commander Alwig bent his knees and assumed a combat stance, ready to receive the imminent threat. Red spirit particles started to emit out from his body as the blade of his claymore turned red-hot and formed a sacred orange flame.
Ariel’s blood boiled with excitement as her face became flushed. With a smile that extended from ear to ear, the fiery young girl summoned out her Lava Warhammer causing the immediate temperature of the humid rainforest to rise drastically, stunning both Lady Seph and Commander Alwig. The dark red glow that shone out from the primal markings of the Spirit made the bludgeon ten times more menacing than any other Warhammer while the bits of lava that dripped onto the floor from its face made it seem one with nature.
“Hoho, to think that this girl also had a Spirit that was baptised in a natural phenomenon. Edward, that bastard, how much else is he hiding from me.”
Although Lady Seph knew Ariel for almost three years, she had no idea what her Spirit was or what abilities she possessed. The elderly woman had always seen the girl as her disciple’s carry-on as whenever Lady Seph met Ariel, it was always with Shin around. However, after seeing the Lava Warhammer, the seasoned healer knew that she had to reassess her image of the scarlet-haired girl.
Commander Alwig, on the other hand, was seeing another prospective talent that he could rope into the military; but he had to put away that thought for a later time.
The twins’ Ice Bows once again made an appearance as both Ella and Emma look more composed as they summoned out arrows of ice out of thin air and nocked them onto the crystalline string of their Spirits. Now that they were both at Rank 8, they had enough mana to effortlessly fire over a hundred ice arrows. Also, their strikes and defences had become much more potent after cultivating the Crystal Toxotai Mantra.
As for Shin, the only two means of attack that he had was the two gourds situated on his belt. Uncorking both of them, the young teen brought out a string of transparent water created by The Sovereign Koi and allowed it to encircle his body before forming it into a ball that remained levitating in the air. Being a Spirit Apostle, Shin’s control over his created water had drastically improved, and manoeuvres like that were as simple as breathing to him. Doing the same to the nerve-paralysing liquid in the second flask, Shin now had two balls of fluids orbiting around him like planets to a star.
Staying close to the children, Ines and Marric too summoned out their Spirits and remained vigilant. On the other side, Songath and Slystan stood in front of Linus and Leon. After all, to protect the children was their utmost priority.
Bursting out from the jungle, mana-filled Spirit Beasts bared their fangs at the unwelcomed visitors as the elements in the air vibrated in trepidation. Finally, it was Shin’s first battle with the vicious beasts of the Uncharted Wilderness.