The insides of the walls were just as Lady Seph expected, fallen soldiers clutching their wounds while those who did survive, formed a search party to recover those who were trapped under the debris. Healers from the sick bay scurried about the place where the wounded were gathered while commanders gathered their battalions for further briefings. Amongst the panicked bodies, there was a blonde knight loudly barking out orders to his subordinates with a fierce expression. Only after noticing the arrival of the Frie Clan members did he relax his facial muscles.
“Lady Seph! You guys are back!”
Once he calmed down, Commander Alwig reflected on his actions towards Lady Seph and the rest and felt somewhat remorseful. He had left them out in the Uncharted Wilderness even though he was their primary guide. Granted they were near the Keep and the firepower that they had were enough to make the journey back unharmed, he had still abandoned them, shirking his responsibility in the process. Thus, when facing the group, he unconsciously had his head bent at an angle with his arms to his side.
“Alwig, what’s the condition of the Keep?”
Trying to skip the pleasantries, the beautiful young woman folded her arms while hurrying on the conversation.
“The good news is that from that attack, not many of our soldiers were taken down. About ninety-five per cent survived that mysterious strike and can continue to fight. The bad news is about what’s to come…”
Leading the group up the steep staircase of the Keep, Commander Alwig shook his head in fear and disappointment. The bricks on the wall had already started to crumble, and every so often, a piece of rock would fall from the precipice of the old barrier that had defended the Himmel Empire’s western border.
“Now that the Guardian Rock is gone, once a beast horde arrives, we won’t be able to rely on the walls of the Keep anymore. We would have to use all of our strengths to fight them in that field over there to prevent them from overrunning the Keep. Judging from how swiftly that entity reacted, I’m sure that a beast horde, one of which the likes we have never encountered, would be marching out from that woodlands within the day.”
“So that’s why all the warriors are forming flanks now?”
Shin followed Commander Alwig’s finger to the field just outside of Aldrich’s Keep. Even though the Guardian Rock had just been destroyed, there were already soldiers marching out of the fortification and formed a tight defence line to bar the entry of any who tread near.
“Exactly! Although we would love to spend all of our energies on healing the fallen and repairing the walls, we simply don’t have that luxury. I know you guys are just here to monitor the situation and protect those kids with you, but all I hope is for you to lend your powers when it counts the most.”
Directing his words to the Shrine Maiden and the four Spirit Lords that she commanded, Commander Alwig put on a pleading face, in hopes that they would lend their expertise in the fight that was to come. Currently, Aldrich’s Keep is facing a crisis that it had never been in before. An additional helping hand was more than welcomed for the second-in-command.
“Alwig, the members of the Frie Clan are guests! They are not our reinforcements!”
An old voice bellowed out from behind the blonde knight. Tapping his silver cane on the concrete floor as he walked, General Anmac slowly walked towards the group with a worn-out face. His wrinkles had become more defined and his eyes, which had been full of vigour, was showing traces of fatigue. Since his meeting with Lady Seph, it seemed like he had aged over ten years, and one step closer to his grave.
“Hoho, Anmac. I knew your pile of old bones would somehow survive that attack!”
“Seraphim! It has been so many years since I’d seen you in that form! Why don’t tell me you miss the embrace of a younger man and wish to seduce them in that appearance?”
“Oh, did that near-death experience cause you to lose your mind? Do you want me to put it back in order?”
Raising a clenched fist, the blonde doll of a woman threatened to punch a hole through General Anmac’s head. Pointing his silver cane towards the woman’s fist, the elderly man played along with Lady Seph’s threat.
“Alright, let’s not kill each other before the enemy arrives…”
Acting as a mediator, Commander Alwig went in between the two juggernauts and slowly separated them from each other. At the same time, he whispered in a voice that only the General could hear.
“General! We need all the help that we can get! If the Frie Clan members help us, we have a much higher chance of weathering out this storm.”
In Aldrich’s Keep, there were over twenty Spirit Lords and four Spirit Kings. If the Frie Clan members joined their ranks, they would be able to delegate more forces to different parts of the battlefield thus minimising the risk of high-level Spirit Beasts from breaking through.
“Yes, I concur, but that’s not the way to do things here! If any member of the Frie Clan falls, especially the younger ones, it will become the Empire’s responsibility. Right now, they are here on orders of their Clan so even if they die, the Empire would not be affected in any negative way since they came here of their own accord. However, if we were to order them to fight, we will be shouldering a responsibility that we can’t bear. Remember, we are soldiers of the Empire! We can’t just do things without considering the ramifications that it would have for the government!”
Stating his logic, the General barred Commander Alwig from bringing the fighting power of the Frie Clan into play.
“Then what do you suggest you do with them?”
The blonde knight was frustrated. In the next beast horde, a good amount of his comrades were expected to fall. Reinforcements from the capital would take ages to march into the western territory, and they had no other options.
“Follow my lead…”
Pushing the stunned knight aside, the seasoned General put on a stern face and eyed those of the Frie Clan group.
“I understand that you guys are guests and I dare not hope that you volunteer your services to defend the Keep. However, we are in a state of peril so please hear the plea of this haggard body of mine…”
Gulping down a mouthful of saliva, the group remained silent as they waited for the next words of the general.
“When our troops fall in battle, we would move them into a safe place in the Keep for healing. All I hope for you guys is to defend that area should any stray beasts wander in.”
In the next battle, Aldrich’s Keep was expected to send out all of its forces into combat. There were no extra hands to help defend the sick and wounded. After cracking his head open a few times, General Anmac finally understood that this was the best course of action for the members of the Frie Clan. He did not want them to abandon the Keep as their strengths were needed but neither could he force them to fight. All he could do was plead that they help defend a single place while the warriors raced out into the battleground.
“The Frie Clan is part of the Empire, and we have received the emperor’s grace multiple times. We accept this task presented to us!”
Taking one step forward, the Shrine Maiden, who acted as the leader of the group, accepted the General’s appeal while giving the aged man a salute.
“Thank you… Thank you… Seraphim, I hope you would uphold your promise.”
Rolling her eyes adorably, the young woman scoffed at the elderly man’s stern words. Deep down, she knew that the reason why General Anmac asked the Frie Clan to guard the healing bay was due to her disciple. He knew how much Lady Seph cherished Shin and more experience healing wounded bodies was imperative for the young boy to grow. Additionally, the general knew that she didn’t want Shin to get hurt. Thus, having the Frie Clan stationed at the sick bay was also to her benefit. Now, she must go all out when she fights.
“General! Commander! Urgent news!”
At that moment, a hurried soldier up the crumbling stairs of the Keep walls with a head full of sweat. His arms trembling, he gave the two figures a bow before hesitantly looking at the people with them, unsure if it was the right setting to report the news.
“What is it? You can speak!”
Noticing the soldier’s trepidation, Commander Alwig directly ordered him to spill out his news.
“U-Understood! The scouts that we have sent out have finally sent a message. A horde, over a hundred thousand strong, have started to form in the outskirts of the Uncharted Wilderness. Up till now, they have not made any sudden movements, but it is expected to attack within the hour!”
“WHAT?! A HUNDRED THOUSAND?!?!”
Unable to hide his fear and surprise, the blonde knight hollered out. It was probably the strongest beast horde that the Keep had ever seen. At best, the number of fit warriors to fight in the upcoming battle was around ten thousand. Outnumbered almost ten-to-one, it seemed like a hopeless cause without the help of the Guardian Rock.
“Why have they not attacked? Are they gathering?!”
General Anmac questioned the soldier but only received a silent uncertain shake of the head. It was highly unusual for beast horde attacks to be so coordinated. Historically, the beasts would just attack with whatever numbers it had and even during the purge, the amount of Spirit Beasts would never exceed ten thousand. Yet, the threat that the Keep was facing seemed more like a tactical war between humans instead of warriors slaughtering unwanted beasts.
“Goddamnit, how the hell are they able to control those beasts?! To gather a hundred thousand and make them wait patiently like a real army?!”
Biting his nails, Commander Alwig wandered about the mysterious enemy that they were facing. Although they knew it was the Black Mask syndicate, they didn’t know how powerful its leader was. Whether the leader was a Primordial Beast or a human Spirit User, the strength that it displayed was off the charts. Being able to cause a mana explosion that nearly ended Lady Seph’s life, creating a laser beam that could destroy the Guardian Rock that brought down half of Aldrich’s Keep impregnable legend and finally, controlling over a hundred thousand Spirit Beasts to do its bidding. Either one of those abilities was outlandish to hear, but it was the truth.
“There’s no choice, we have to hurry! Members from the Frie Clan, I’m counting on you!”
“Shin, you follow them. I have to assist that old bastard. Stay safe!”
Lovingly patting the silky black hair of Shin’s, Lady Seph gently kissed the forehead of her disciple while letting Bingbing fall onto his shoulders. Typically, when his master did that to him in her old woman’s exterior, he would feel nothing of it. However, now that her lips had regained its plump and soft texture, adding to the fact that Lady Seph was now a breathtaking beauty, Shin couldn’t help but retract a little from his master’s kiss.
Ariel was obviously displeased when she saw Shin being kissed by another woman but after mentally repeating to herself that the blonde Apollo look-alike was originally a decrepit grandmother, she felt her jealous heart ease up.
“I’ll lead you to the healing bay!”
Commander Alwig volunteered his guidance services once more, leaving space for Lady Seph and General Anmac to chat.
“So here we are again, fighting side-by-side…”
After the members of the Frie Clan retreated, General Anmac and Lady Seph levitated up high in the air while monitoring the situation of both the Uncharted Wilderness and the troops down below. Once the warriors below saw the two floating figures, the all chanted out a war-cry while boosting up their morale. The presence of two legendary war figures was much needed in a time a crisis such as this.
“Anmac, the thing that I saw. If it appears on this battlefield, I’m taking Shin, and I’m running. That’s not a fight that I have signed up for.”
Still traumatised after witnessing the might of the black orb, Lady Seph gave the general a hard look. The deal was for her to assist the Keep at the cost of their past relationship as fighting partners, not to throw her life away.
“Was it that bad?”
“The worst feeling that I had ever had. Even that dinosaur grandma coffined in the Healer’s association never made me feel that much fear. In fact, I’m not sure if any Spirit Saint could possess that kind of power.”
“Hohoho, to think that something like that exists in this world! What do you think? Could it be a descended immortal? Or a primordial beast stronger than any recorded in the history books?”
“Perhaps… All I know is that once that appears here, to hell with the military. My life is more important.”
“You mean your disciple’s life is more important?”
General Anmac was one of the few people in the world that fought alongside Lady Seph in her youth. So he can say with high confidence that the seasoned healer that stood alongside him was no coward. There were many monikers given to the woman over the years, and many described her as heartless, but the wizened, bronzed man knew that she was one of the most compassionate healers out there. There was no way she would abandon thousands of lives for the sake of her own.
“That boy really had an impact on you huh?”
“Shin’s talent is beyond comprehension, Anmac. I believe that not only would he overtake me, but even the mythical Hippocrates himself.”
“Hahaha, so that’s why! You’re raising a mini-you huh?”
“You could say so. My legacy, my research. I’m afraid that at the end of the day, no one would remember it. All that they can remember is my actions at Yara Pass, and that is tied to the story of the Empire. I want to transcend that name. The father of healing, Spirit Immortal Hippocrates. The greatest genius of all time, Spirit Immortal Dream. I want my name to be up there with them. And if it can’t be done, at least I get to be the master of the next Spirit Immortal.”
“And you think that to be Shin?”
“I know that it is.”
Under the earnest gaze of the blonde woman, General Anmac could only sigh in resignation.
“Well, let’s see we can add another legend under your belt, Lady of Yara Pass.”
Deafening roars and trembling earth signified that the beast horde was finally ready to march onto the field of Aldrich’s Keep. Summoning out a silver scythe, the famed general, with his bony structure, resembled the grim reaper, ready to slash the life out of anything that got near.
“Hmph! They would be calling me Lady of Aldrich’s Keep after this, burying your name in the process! Hahaha, I wonder how would that make you feel?!”
Behind the beautiful woman, a heavenly figure as gorgeous as herself, made its appearance. In her hands, an exquisite harp that when played, caused a divine melody to fill the entire area.
“I would be more than happy to welcome it!”
Bursting out from the depths of the Uncharted Wilderness, a sea of savage Spirit Beasts marched out baring their fangs out at the troops that barricaded their path. Bears, tigers, falcons, deer. Basically, anything that evolved from a regular animal into a Spirit Beasts stampeded their way out of the forest and into the fields. Among them, higher tiers of Spirit Beasts could be seen mingling with the weaker members. Lady Seph could even spot out a Tier 6 Spirit Beast, something that could threaten a Spirit Lord, out on the vanguard.
Commander Alwig was barking out orders non-stop while the other Spirit Kings and Spirit Lords ensured that their men stayed in formation. As expected, the valiant warriors all wore brave faces, as if it were just yet another training exercise for them.
“Let us begin…”