“What do you mean Junius disappeared?!”
“I’m sorry, Shin…”
“Why are you apologising?!?! Where did Junius go?! WHERE DID JUNIUS GO?!” Shin exclaimed in shock after hearing the Shrine Maiden words.
“Shin! Calm yourself! Aunt Lien is just as worried as you!” Ariel cried out from his side. Grasping the hands of the shaking youth, the scarlet-haired girl attempted to calm Shin. Peering at his childhood friend, the agitated black-haired teen took several deep breaths in.
“I’m sorry, Senior… I had lost myself…”
“It’s alright, I understand. You’re just worried about someone you love.” Wearing a bitter smile, the Shrine Maiden consoled the youth. She too had reacted this way after receiving news that her loved one had passed. Thus, she knew what kind of emotions the boy was going through.
“Please… Please, tell me what happened to Junius.” Shin cried out in a plea. To be honest, he was more confused than distraught right now.
When they left for Aldrich’s Keep, Junius was still in the pink of health with everything going smoothly for him. He had a good job where he had become some sort of mascot for the constables. He had a loving girlfriend in Lily, and even though they only could meet once a year, their relationship was still going strong. Everything was perfect for the young teenager, so why would he suddenly disappear?
“The Mushinkei and the Constable Headquarters both confirmed that Junius had gone on a journey to train himself and he was expected to return a few days ago. However, up to this day, there is still no news of him.”
“Did he tell anyone where he was going?!” Shin’s eyes dilated as his voice started becoming more unstable. He was unable to hide the worry and uneasiness that he had as his hands trembled unconsciously. The black-haired youth knew the most about Junius, there was no way he would have abandoned his post without any reason. If Junius had disappeared, it must mean that something untoward had happened.
“No… He just said that he was going south. He didn’t give any details about his destination.”
“South? Why would he go south?”
Initially, Shin hypothesised that Junius had chased their party to Aldrich’s Keep. After all, with Junius’ overprotective character, it made sense that he would want to personally protect Shin and the twins from harm. However, since the viridian-haired teenager never made it to the fortification, it meant one of two things. One, he was attacked along the way and was unable to continue the trip, or his target location was never the Keep in the first place. Thanking the immortals above that it wasn’t the former, Shin continued to probe.
“No one knows… Everything is still so fresh and premature. Once we return to the mountain, we will be able to figure it out.”
“Does that ‘we’ include me?”
Since the assassination attempt on his life three years ago, Shin and Junius had been unofficially living in exile. Although it was both for his own safety and to maintain the fragile balance of the Frie Clan, the black-haired boy still missed residing with his family. There were many times that Shin fantasised about returning to the mountain when he was living in Chilyoja Waypoint, but he knew that dream would not come to pass.
“The Clan Master didn’t say anything about that…”
Knowing the full circumstances of Shin’s exile, the Shrine Maiden could sympathise with the young thirteen-year-old’s feelings. However, because she knew everything related to that incident, the white-robed lady could roughly guess what would happen if she brought Shin back in these dire times. Closing her eyes gingerly, the Shrine Maiden shook her head.
“I see… Whatever… Senior, even though I can’t return to the mountain, Junius is someone dear to me. I hope to be involved in the search.” Dropping his head like a disappointed puppy, Shin tightened his hold on Ariel’s small hands as he sought some form of comfort. Sensing her childhood friend’s despondency, the scarlet-haired girl replied in kind as she lay her head on his shoulders.
“Definitely. I will make sure to keep you posted. Right now, once matters are settled here, I will bring the rest back to the mountain. Shin, you will be safe as long as you stay by Lady Seph’s side.” The Shrine Maiden quickly assured Shin while giving him further instructions on what was to come.
“Yeah, Shin… You don’t have to worry. I’m sure brother Junius is just lost or something. By the time we return, there will definitely be news of him!” Ariel added some comforting words while staring at the beautiful black pupils of her childhood friend.
“I hope so…” Shin, on the other hand, could not hide his anxiety. Gritting his teeth while clenching his two fists until his knuckles turned white, the youth started reminiscing about the past.
Junius was probably the one he interacted with all of his life. Ever since he could walk, Shin remembered that Junius had been right there by his side. In his times of grief and his times of happiness, Junius had always been there. Thus, the fact that this pillar of his life had suddenly gone missing created a particular void in the young teen’s mind.
‘Junius… I hope that you’re alright…’
“So you guys still use the Cikai Mirror to communicate?” Lady Seph followed Commander Alwig past all the destruction and death that was littered all along the fallen Keep into a small little chamber, hidden away from sight.
Although over eighty per cent of the fort had been torn down by the beast horde, some reinforced structures that were secluded underground managed to elude the carnage. At every single military base in the Himmel Empire, it was mandatory for the higher-ups to install a communication room so that they could regularly report back to the capital, and Aldrich’s Keep was no exception.
The small communication room had very little knick-knacks and only contained the bare essentials. A rounded ceramic table that was surrounded with comfortable stools, in case the meeting would run long, and naturally, the device that created a connection with the Capital, the Cikai Mirror, were the only two items that graced the chambers.
“Yeah, it’s still the most effective way for us to establish a channel given the long distance between the Keep and the Capital.”
“Hah… Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right…” Lady Seph smiled wryly as she stared at the crystal clear mirror that reflected her beautiful features. It would still take many hours for the side-effect of ‘Self-Rejuvenation’ to wear off thus, she had to unwillingly remain in this state.
“Who are you going to contact?”
“It depends on who is on the other side at that time. Typically, the officer who is receiving the transmission would determine the severity of the call and connect me to the appropriate authorities. Given that Aldrich’s Keep has been destroyed, I’m guessing a High General, or perhaps someone at a higher position would receive the call.” Commander Alwig patiently explained to Lady Seph while his eyes lost a little of his confidence.
As someone in the military, the blonde knight would have loved to report only good news through the Cikai Mirror. Unfortunately, this time he was going to be recounting his failure to defend the fort he swore to protect.
“Urgh… Although I don’t want to meet any of those bastards again… Whatever… Have you established a connection?” Thinking about meeting those who lived in the Captial, that had their heads up their asses, Lady Seph sneered in disdain.
“Yes, right now we are awaiting someone of authority to receive our call. Please be patient, my lady.”
“Tskkk… Hopefully, I don’t meet a detestable face…” Praying to the Immortals above that she does not meet one of her most hated enemies, Lady Seph folded her arms in akimbo and waited for the transmission in the Cikai Mirror to connect. Thankfully, she didn’t have to wait for long.
“Sir! The other side has picked up!” One of the officers in charge of the communication room shouted out.
“Who are we connected to?”
“T-That… N-No way… We are conn-”
“It’s me.” Before the officer to mouth out his words, a deep sonorous voice echoed through the stone chamber.
Inside of the Cikai Mirror, a lean and robust middle-aged man wearing a bright yellow robe appeared before those in the communication room. Intricate, beautiful dragons that had been fastidiously sewn onto the ostentatious garments highlighted the grandeur of the well-built man and the diamond crown on his head showed off the extreme wealth that he possessed. His sharp chin was covered by a well-groomed goatee, and his rounded nose made his bright green eyes even more prominent than it already was.
Once realising who was in their presence, every single person in the room fell to their knees and bowed their heads. The Himmel Empire adopted a monarchy where one individual held absolute sovereign power. All subjects were to report to that one person and all allegiances formed were in his name. Thus, no one within the lands of the Empire would dare cross this person. Well, that was in theory.
“Hoho, senior Seraphim. To think that you’re present as well!”
“And to think that you’re still well and alive on the throne, you brat.” Recognising the cheerful face that hadn’t changed one bit since she left, Lady Seph rolled her eyes in displeasure.
Of all the people that Lady Seph wanted to avoid meeting, the reigning Himmel Emperor was among the top picks. Although she did not hate him as much as the other elders in the Capital, due to his absolute power and whimsical attitude, the seasoned healer didn’t know the right manner to deal with him.
“Hahaha, to think that we would meet again in these circumstances, also, you’re in your younger body! How many years has it been since I saw you that beautiful? Perhaps the last time was when I was just a mere child… Ah, the memories…”
“Let me halt you right there, Tenno… I mean Your Majesty. There is an urgent issue at hand. We can catch up some other time.” Lady Seph brought her hand to her head as she quelled an emerging headache that she was getting while the other members in the room gaped in awe at how casual the Emperor was being.
If it were some other person being that informal, to the point of which that she accidentally called the Emperor without honorifics, that person would have been tried for Les Majeste in a heartbeat. However, Lady Seph was no ordinary person.
“Right. I’d heard Aldrich’s Keep had fallen. What’s going on?” As if switching to another person, the Emperor furrowed his brows as his voice deepened once more. Assuming his regal disposition, the middle-aged man questioned those in the chambers.
“That… Your Majesty, if you may allow me to speak.” Commander Alwig, who had remained to kneel in front of the mirror all this while, raised his head slightly and addressed the ruler of his nation.
“Skip the formalities. You must be Alwig.”
“Yes, that is me!”
“Given that the fact that you are the one who had contacted me, I’m guessing senior Anmac has…” Stopping his sentence, the Emperor directly gazed at the war-torn blonde knight.
“The General… Fought hard to the very end…”
“I see… Alwig, tell me everything! From the beginning until the very end! Leave no detail behind!”
“Yes! Your Majesty!”
Standing up in a hurry, the blonde knight gave the Emperor a military salute before beginning to recount everything that had happened.