“Master! What… You… Wait, I don’t understand… What… What happened to you?!”
Exclaiming out at the top of his lungs, Shin pointed his quivering finger at the beautiful young woman that appeared alongside Commander Alwig. Once the Shrine Maiden and the others heard the astonished youth’s claim, they too dropped their jaw and tried to find the link between the maiden, who could easily trample the feelings of those imperial courtesans due to her beauty, and Lady Seph, who was a wrinkled elderly woman who was way past her prime.
“Hah… Must I explain this to everyone I meet? To put it short, it’s my ability. There! You happy?! Can we go now?”
Trying to cut the conversation short, Lady Seph rolled her eyes in displeasure. Bingbing, who had been at Shin’s side for the entire time, gently nudged her snout on the boy’s cheeks, as if asking what the commotion was all about. Naturally, the snowy white gerbil had seen Lady Seph in this form before and didn’t understand why everyone was making a fuss.
“Master! You can become younger?! Or were you young in the first place and liked to roleplay as a granny? Wha…”
“Let me cut you off right there o’ precious disciple of mine. One more word out of your mouth and you can get the usual treatment…”
Raising her milky white arms, Lady Seph created an orb of brilliant light that Shin had dreaded to see. Jerking violently, Shin stood still like a frozen sculpture and ended all topics pertaining to his Master’s appearance. Truth to be told, a part of his consciousness wanted to reject the fact that this breathtaking charmer of a woman was the same person that ordered him to clean her toilet for the past three years. However, once the familiar light and mana came out, all doubts in his mind just vanished without a trace.
“L-Lady Seph, might I ask why you have used that ability? Is it because of that strange mana surge earlier on.”
While Shin had begun to cower in fear, the Shrine Maiden approached her idol somewhat apprehensively. Not only was Lady Seph a role model for all auxiliary Spirit Users but now she could age backwards too? It was as if she was begging for female Spirit Users to worship her at her feet. Trying her best not to lose herself by being an obsessive fangirl, the woman draped in all white robes gave her theory on what had happened.
“Yeah, I had to use my ‘Self-rejuvenation’ to escape from that horrid attack.”
“What was that mana signature anyw…”
Before the Shrine Maiden could complete her words, a thunderous roar reverberated through the dense forest, deafening the ears of all those who were near it. Shin and the rest immediately brought their hands to their heads and fell to the grassy floor like puppets being cut from their strings.
Moans and groans of the younger generation filled the air as Shin, and the others rolled helplessly on the ground. Their hands, which had been covering their ears, were suddenly stained with a red liquid and at the same time, an excruciating headache, one of which the likes that they had never experienced polluted their minds. The Spirit Practitioners of the group, such as the twins and Linus, were unable to bear the pain any longer and allowed their minds fall into a bottomless abyss, leaving Shin, Ariel and Leon to fend against the pain by themselves.
Waving her hands, Lady Seph created a blanket of healing light that enveloped the fallen children, protecting them from sustaining any further damage. Gritting their teeth, the Spirit Lords and Spirit Kings with the group tried their best to endure the pain by chanting their cultivation techniques and enhancing their bodies with mana. Yet, even after doing all of that, their pain was only alleviated when Lady Seph gave them a protective barrier, similar to the one that she provided to Shin.
Shin rubbed the temples of his forehead as he tried his best to regain his bearings. The crazy sound that he had experienced had left him in a dreary state, unsure if his vision was a dream or reality. Ariel was in the exact same state. Thankfully, she was situated next to Shin and grabbed hold of the black-haired youth’s arms to validate his safety. Lady Seph, the sole person who was unaffected by the blast, furrowed her brows and glanced at her disciple.
“Quickly! We have to leave now! Wake up your friends! I didn’t think that it would react so swiftly after finding out…”
“Lady Seph! What’s going on?! What was that?!”
Ines cried out. There were very little things that could shake Ines to her very core, and that sound had almost made her wet herself. If she were to describe it, it was as if she was stranded on a floating boat, surrounded by an endless sea filled to the brim with marine predators that all wanted a piece of her flesh.
“There’s no time to explain, carry those who are unconscious and… NO EVERYONE GET DOWN NOW!!!”
Instantly moving to her disciple, she harshly pushed both the heads of Shin and Ariel towards the verdant forest floor and increased the mana being supplied to the barriers protecting everyone in the expedition. Heeding her advice, all the Spirit Lords and Spirit Kings dropped straight to the ground and strengthened their mana enhancements. Ines lay on top of the blacked out twins while Songath and Slystan covered Linus and the other two Spirit Practitioners that came along with them.
Even though they were guarded by Lady Seph’s protective barrier, all those awake felt the temperature drastically rise as the moisture in the air got sucked out. Peering outside of the light barrier, Lady Seph could even see the mud on the grassy floor beginning to boil with bubbles popping out ever so often. All of a sudden, a crimson light, more dazzling than even the brightest of days, shot through the air at speeds that no human could ever hope to follow and burnt every tree that came into contact with it. Spanning over two kilometres wide, from the perspective of those below, it seemed like the entire sky had turned into a deep crimson hellscape. Not stopping for anything, the laser beam decimated all that was in its path until it reached its target. Its target that was…
“It is heading for Aldrich’s Keep!”
Commander Alwig bellowed out in horror. Staring into the distance, the number two guy of the Keep knew exactly what the laser beam was aiming for. He couldn’t fathom what kind of damage such a concentrated amount of spiritual energy would do to the famed fort’s walls. On one side, he had faith in the impregnable myth of Aldrich’s Keep. However, he had never witnessed an attack on this kind of scale before.
The crimson light continued on for ten seconds, sending shockwaves that decimated the land and flattened the tree lines. Hot, scalding steam rose up from the muddied floor and melted the leaves of the Uncharted Wilderness turning the humid climate from before into a blistering hot heat. Only after the full ten seconds did the light begin to dissipate into nothingness.
“Is it done?”
Shin felt his Master’s grip on his hand loosen, giving him an opportunity to raise his head. The adults of the group had all gotten up from their positions and seemed to have transformed into blocks of unmoving statues. Their eyes opened so wide that they looked like the eyes of a dead fish waiting to be sliced on the chopping board. However, Shin couldn’t fault them. One look around the terrain and the black-haired boy wore the exact same expression as the rest of his seniors.
The canopies of the towering trees had been turned into dust, leaving space for those below to gaze at the afternoon sun that had been obscured just seconds earlier. Feeling a sharp pain at his mouth, Shin raised his fingers to find that the dry atmosphere had brutally cracked his lips, causing small amounts of blood to flow out. Turning his body around, all Shin could see was destruction from end to end. Due to that crimson beam, the landscape had drastically changed.
“Wake them up! Wake them up! WAKE THEM UP! WE HAVE TO HURRY BACK TO THE KEEP!”
Commander Alwig’s voice trembled as he hurried the members of the Frie Clan to quickly get those who were unconscious, up and running as soon as possible. In fact, he was tempted to just leave the group alone and rush back to ascertain the safety of his comrades.
“Alwig, you go! We’ll catch up with you later!”
Lady Seph knew how much the blonde knight was worried and immediately dismissed him. After all, to Commander Alwig, everyone here was just a stranger that he had met for the first time this morning, while those living in the Keep fought alongside him every day of the year.
“Thank you, my Lady! I’ll be taking my leave then! Please take care!”
Spouting out those parting words in a single breath, the knight enhanced his legs to the limit and bolted straight towards the Keep. At this time, Linus and the twins had mostly regained consciousness and need a few minutes to recover from their disorientation.
“Bingbing! Help us please!”
Acknowledging her Master’s plea, the snowy white gerbil hopped off Shin’s shoulders and happily squeaked. As she was gathering mana, Bingbing emitted a cold, pale aura that instantly chilled the surroundings. Opening her large adorable eyes, Bingbing instantaneously enlarged to over a hundred times her original size, giving enough room for the entire group to hop on.
“Wow! Bingbing you can even do this?!”
Shin was utterly flabbergasted. Just how many more mysteries could he uncover about the gerbil who was always by his side?
Ecstatic that Shin had praised her, Bingbing rapidly wagged her tail. When she was a small critter, all that did was tickle the palms of the black-haired youth. However, now that she was larger than the average elephant, her happiness would shake the earth and send dust clouds flying about.
“Come on, everyone hop on!”
Not wanting to waste any more time, Lady Seph personally dragged the members of the expedition onto Bingbing’s back. Moving at the fastest speeds that she could reach, the enlargened gerbil ferried the group straight back to Aldrich’s Keep. Well, what remained of it.
The fields surrounding the Keep had been utterly wiped clean as a sea of flames took its place. Bits of brick came crumbling down from the top of the fort as cracks formed all over the once solid walls. And the most shocking of all, the black meteorite that had been present since the inception of the fort, had gone missing, alongside the general quarters that lay on top of it.
“Don’t tell me, in that one hit, that beam took down the Guardian Rock that stood for aeons?!”
Lady Seph could not hide her agitation and shouted out. Having interacted with the mystical object before, she could tell how sturdy that rock was. For it to have been wiped clean in one single hit was absolutely ludicrous. As for General Anmac, she wasn’t that worried about that old cockroach. The seasoned warrior always found a way to rise from the ashes. Closing her eyes, Lady Seph maximised her sensory abilities to its absolute limit so that she could identify the scale of which the attack had caused to the soldiers of the Keep. Her ears twitching ever so slightly, she could hear the groans of pain by the injured and the cries for help from the stranded. Wearing a bitter frown, the beautiful woman turned to look at her disciple as she said:
“Shin, I hope you’re mentally prepared… It’s going to get busy from here on out…”