Book 3: Aldrich’s Keep || Chapter 43: The Final Stage (3)

“RETURN TO THE KEEP! DON’T LET ANY OF THEM INTO OUR HOMELAND!!!”

Commander Alwig waved his flaming claymore sword in a frenzy as he screamed out in terror. After the Gargantuan Treant broke down the two walls of the Keep, large amounts of mana flowed out of its body and into the soil underneath the concrete ground of the fort. Summoning out a plethora of trees and vines, Midori created a straight path from the western walls to the eastern one and in the process, destroying anything that stood in its way. Barracks that stood tall for decades had collapsed and monuments that commemorated the legends of the Keep had been toppled by the intense mana being thrown out by the Tier 9 Spirit Beast.

Currently, the majority of the standing army were all on the western wall, trying to hold back the sixty thousand strong beast horde. Unfortunately for them, due to the overwhelming numbers and the sudden assault by Akai and Midori, thousands of Spirit Beasts had passed their defence line and were already on their way into the lands of the Empire. Right now, the focus of the battle had switched from defending the Keep to eliminating as many beasts as they possibly could.

“RARARA!!! Go and die human! We have already won!”

The Blood Red Chimaera that was facing General Anmac laughed out loud as he effortlessly toyed with the veteran fighter. The wizened bronzed man’s face had turned red as he panted heavily. General Anmac had been slicing down countless of Spirit Beasts and had just witnessed his fort being decimated. Naturally, his mental and physical levels were at an all-time low. Akai, on the other hand, was superior in all aspects. The Tier 9 Spirit Beast had overwhelming amounts of mana, much more than the old general. It was in its peak condition as it had not fought a single battle prior to arriving and finally, it had already finished what it came to do. Right now, if Akai wanted to, he could simply end the fatigued general with a flick of his claws.

“FUCK YOU!!!”

General Anmac’s scythe glowed in a silver light as he hacked at the hundred-metre tall monster. He had desperately wanted to rejoin his army to fight off the Gargantuan Treant, but unfortunately, the lime green serpentine tail of Akai’s was too fast for him to evade. All he could do was watch Midori slowly tear down the walls of his home as he fell into despair.

The silver scythe narrowly missed the Blood Red Chimaera’s head as it simply took one step backwards. As if to counter that attack, the serpent tail of Akai spewed out a toxic green fog that filled the entire area and entered General Anmac’s body through his pores.

“*Cough!* *Cough!*. Damn it, poison!!!”

Feeling his mind go dizzy, the elderly man coughed out a mouthful of blood. As a Spirit Emperor, fighting head-to-head with a Tier 9 Spirit Beast was pure suicidal. Although on paper they were only one realm apart, the gulf between the two levels was quite substantial. In fact, to hunt down a Tier 9 Spirit Beast, one needed a Rank 80 Spirit Venerate or at least five Spirit Emperors that could neutralise its abilities. Unfortunately for Aldrich’s Keep, they didn’t have either option.

“RARARARARARA!!! Now that’s the spirit…”

Akai let out a sinister roar and gathered his mana. Initially, he was slightly annoyed that General Anmac was not focusing on him. As a Tier 9 Spirit Beast, he had his own pride, especially since he evolved from a lion. Having his opponent look away during a battle was a great insult to his might. Thus, now that General Anmac had given Akai his undivided attention, the Blood Red Chimaera could finally go all out.

The spiritual pressure being emitted out of the hundred-metre tall Spirit Beast mauled down on the aged general forcing the man to drop down from the skies and onto the ground. At that moment, General Anmac felt as if he was at the bottom of a deep ocean, with the weight of the entire sea pressuring him.

‘ARRGGHHH!!! FUCK!!!’

Trying his best to stay on his feet, the elderly man glanced upwards to gawk at the colossal monstrosity that lay before him. From the insides of its opened mouth, a miniature ball of fire started to form. Although the mini-sphere appeared to be relatively harmless, the experienced warrior felt that another sun had graced the skies. The pressure on his body mounting with every passing second, General Anmac’s movements started to become sluggish and imprecise.

“Bye-bye~ Ignorant human…”

While still trying his best to move, the last thing that General Anmac saw was the bright red light, that was hovering above his head, quickly descend upon his body.

~~~

“Shin! Are you alright?!”

Hiding in a well-guarded facility, Shin and the other Frie Clan members were greeted by a beautiful young blonde woman, who had rushed over to her disciple’s side.

“Master! Thank goodness you’re alright!”

“Silly child, there’s no way I would die that easily…”

Reuniting with her disciple, Lady Seph breathed a massive sigh of relief. Pulling the young boy into her embrace, her youthful body quivered in fear. When she left General Anmac just moments prior, deep down, both of them knew that it would be their last time seeing each other. She had just lost one of her most cherished friends, if her sole protege had been taken away too, Lady Seph didn’t know what she would do. Turning to the Shrine Maiden, the seasoned healer wore a bitter smile as she said:

“Thank you for taking care of Shin while I wasn’t here…”

“E-Eh?! L-Lady Seph, there’s no need to thank me! I was just doing my job!”

As the head of the Frie Clan expedition, the Shrine Maiden was in charge of the safety of all the members present. Therefore, to the best of her ability, she eradicated any stray beasts that roamed near the area.

“Nonetheless, I thank you. Right now the Keep is in a mess, the beast horde had stormed the area. Without your presence, I doubt this place would be safe.”

“Thank… You…”

Abashed by the constant praise, the Shrine Maiden shyly looked away from her idol and attempted to quell her beating heart, and that phenomena were not limited to just her. Entering the medical bay, where numerous healers and nurses worked, Lady Seph seemed to be like an angel descending from the heavens. Anyone who went to the Healer’s Association would almost always hear the legend of Yara Pass and the goddess-like abilities of Lady Seph.

“L-Lady Seph… It’s an honour to finally meet you… M-My name is Escred…”

A certain hazel-coloured haired individual crossed the entire facility to greet the gorgeous woman. In his memory, Lady Seph was described as an elderly woman that was way past her prime. However, the woman in front of him was clearly a youthful beauty, causing him to be somewhat tongue-tied.

“Yeah… What’s the situation here?”

Now that she had reunited with Shin, Lady Seph could finally relax her tense heart. Judging from the earlier conversation that Midori had with her, the Black Masks weren’t planning on massacring the soldiers in the Keep, rather they wanted to move the vast amounts of beasts from the Uncharted Wilderness into the Himmel Empire. Thus, as long as she didn’t go an provoke the beasts, Lady Seph doubted that there would be any retaliation against them, and even if there was, she could simply flee with Shin. Although she was no match for the two Tier 9 Spirit Beasts, Lady Seph was confident in her speed. After all, her light elemental affinity was much faster than a slow-moving Treant or a Flame Chimaera.

“The Beasts have infiltrated the Keep! Commander Alwig and the other commanders are doing their best to kill as many beasts as they can!”

One of the officers guarding the medical bay reported. Right now, Aldrich’s Keep was overrun with Spirit Beasts of all shapes and sizes, and the warriors of the fort were hard at work trying to diminish their numbers. Unfortunately, they were severely outnumbered, and the straight path created by the Gargantuan Treant was now deluged with vicious beasts. If one viewed the lane from up top, it would resemble an overflowing river, but instead of droplets of water, the river contained Spirit Beasts that could easily maul an average citizen apart.

“What about the Gargantuan Treant?”

“After it destroyed the eastern wall, it disappeared back into the Uncharted Wilderness!”

“I see…”

Putting her hands on her chin, Lady Seph fell into deep thought. From her interaction with Midori, she could tell that the Tier 9 Spirit Beast was not under any apparent control. The Gargantuan Treant was a peaceful beast and disliked to come into the open. In fact, the mighty beast would even go out of its way to avoid human contact, and yet, Midori showed such a violent side of itself going against the gentle behaviour of his species.

‘If he wasn’t controlled, what could possibly compel him to fight for the Black Masks?’

Lady Seph was baffled. The more she learnt about the mysterious syndicate, the less she understood. The entity that they called the Allfather was someone that could easily fight a Spirit Saint, and the intelligence that General Anmac had given her claimed that there was a Primordial Beast under the Allfather’s control. Adding to the fact that two Tier 9 Spirit Beasts were willingly working for the organisation, the Black Masks could most definitely threaten the fragile balance of the three great powers. And that was only with all the known information of the Black Masks. Who knew what other powerful entities lay hidden behind the syndicate.

‘Whatever, let’s just try and survive this ordeal first…’

Peering to her side, Lady Seph sighed as she stroked the silky hair of her disciple.

~~~

Uncharted Wilderness. ???

“Sir Brahmin! We’ve done it! Senior Midori and Senior Akai broke down the walls.”

“Hmph! That is to be expected! Alright, that means the first stage of the mission is a success.”

The sentry atop the watchtower joyfully reported to the menacing man standing next to him.

“Although we had to skip a few steps and allocate much more resources due to Lady Seph finding one of our bases, thankfully we managed to complete phase one quickly…”

“It’s all thanks to the Allfather’s foresight! If we delayed any longer, the old bastards from the Himmel Empire might have rushed out from the comfort of the capital and rushed towards the Keep.”

“Exactly! Ahhh, how I wish I could bathe in the Allfather’s glory once more!”

The Brahmin laughed out loud in a maniacal manner as he honoured his supreme leader.

“Hah… When will I get the chance to meet with the Allfather…”

“HAHAHA!!! Not to worry my friend! As long as you keep serving the Allfather with all your heart, I’m sure that day will come soon! Of course, I will report your service during this mission in full!”

“Thank you, Sir Brahmin! I will continue to work hard!”

Like two religious fanatics, the Black Mask duo chortled as the warriors of the Keep steadily fell to the endless onslaught of the beast horde.

~~~

For more than an hour, Commander Alwig and the remnants of the army continued to slay as many beasts as they could. Slashing and hacking wildly, the originally ten-thousand men strong army was reduced to less than two thousand as many warriors either fell in battle or retired due to excessive injuries. Nevertheless, the remaining fighters displayed their determination as they endlessly fought on, even though the war had already been lost. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of beasts had long escaped from the Keep and went on to the greener pastures of the Himmel Empire.

“This is just a mess…”

Lady Seph’s voice quivered as she said those words. Now that the majority of the beast horde had dissipated into the Empire, the esteemed healer felt comfortable enough to bring Shin out from hiding so that she could help treat the patients that fell outside of the medical bay. The once indestructible Aldrich’s Keep had turned into a wasteland, filled to the brim with carcasses of dead beasts and corpses of fallen soldiers.

Shin, who was accompanied by his carry-on, Ariel, felt nauseous as he witnessed the death and destruction that surrounded him. Buildings collapsed and weaponry utterly decimated, the military base that he had once lived in was totally unrecognisable.

“Terrible…”

“*Gulp*.”

Shin softly whispered out while Ariel swallowed a mouthful of saliva. Slowly walking around, Lady Seph identified some of the injured soldiers and healed them. Although she was technically released from her duties by General Anmac, the least that she could do was treat some of the valiant warriors that fought to the very end. Yet, after ten minutes of trekking, it became evident that the dead outnumbered the living. No matter how mystical a healer was, there was no ability in the world that allowed the resurrection of the dead.

“Tsssk…”

Clicking her tongue in anger, Lady Seph quickly walked past the mountain of bodies with Shin and Ariel following closely behind. Right now, she only had one target in mind. Lady Seph had to meet with the highest authority in the Keep so that she could contact the Empire. Initially, that would be General Anmac, but after leaving him to deal with the Blood Red Chimaera, deep down she had a feeling that going to the wizened general was no longer an option. Thus, she had to get to the number two person in the Keep; and currently, that person was…

“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!!!!”

Standing at the foot of a stack of Spirit Beasts, a blonde knight was busying hacking the dead carcasses while spewing out curses at every swing. His claymore sword had lost its earlier splendour and resembled a dull weapon that a third-rate mercenary would use. The silver armour that he once wore proudly had been clouded by mud and blood, and the healthy complexion that he had was all but lost.

“Alwig! Alwig! ALWIG!!!”

“Lady Seph…”

Only after shouting out his name did the knight respond to the Lady Seph’s calls. The once handsome and bright eyes that inspired thousands had turned cloudy as the man lost all hope. His body damaged with countless of cuts and bruises, in Shin’s eyes, the current image of Commander Alwig was far from the brave warrior that single-handedly obliterated a horde of beasts when he first came to the Keep.

“Lady Seph… It’s all over… Aldrich’s Keep had fallen, the beasts have infiltrated the lands of the Himmel Empire and… The General…”

“Yeah… Anmac passed away…”

“Why… Why… WHY?!?!?!”

Sending out a mournful scream, Commander Alwig fell to his knees and started to cry.

“Lady Seph… What do I do now?”

His entire life, Commander Alwig had been trained to serve Aldrich’s Keep, eventually becoming the successor of General Anmac. But now, there was no longer an Aldrich’s Keep to defend. His comrades, dead. His house, destroyed. His mentor, dead. On this very day, everything in his life had been taken away from him.

“Alwig… There’s nothing that you can do to turn back time.”

“…”

“What you can do is fight for the future.”

Taking a small peek at a certain black-haired youth standing next to his childhood friend, Lady Seph let out a helpless sigh.

“That despair that you feel. Remember it. Use it to sharpen your blade. So that in the end, you can fight the ones that took everything you had away from you.”

“Lady Seph…”

“For now, we need to contact the Capital… Although I hate to admit it, only those bastards living there can help us now… Alwig, help me establish a connection with them.”

“I understand…”

The Himmel Empire had numerous experts, and even without counting the powerful family clans, they had over three hundred Rank 70 Spirit Emperors and over fifty Rank 80 Spirit Venerates. Each one of them had the power to rule over a domain, but the majority chose to remain within the Capital, the northern border and the eastern border. Naturally, the Capital contained the most experts and not to mention, the Imperial House. With a Rank 90 Spirit Saint always present in the Capital, it was without question, the most secure place in the entire Empire.

“Thank you.”

Although the notion of contacting the bastards of the Empire made Lady Seph sick to the stomach, extreme circumstances call for drastic measures. She was willing to set aside her vendetta against the Empire for one moment so that she could discuss the genuine threat that was the Black Mask syndicate.

“SHIN! ARIEL!”

While Lady Seph and Commander Alwig were conversing a hurried voice called for the two youths. Turning their heads, they saw a white-robed woman running straight at them, with Ella and Emma in hot pursuit.

“Senior? Is something the matter?”

“*Hurghh!* *Hurghh!*. Shin, Ariel! The Clan Master had sent back word!”

Panting heavily, the Shrine Maiden tried her best to compose herself.

“Due to the unexpected breach of Aldrich’s Keep, all Frie Clan personnel are to return to the mountain immediately! And…”

The Shrine Maiden tried to continue the Clan Master’s, but after seeing the face of Shin, she suddenly became lost for words.

“And what?”

“J-Junius… Junius he… Junius has disappeared!!!”

~~~End of Book 3~~~

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