“You two wouldn’t mind if my disciple sits in on our meeting right?” Taking a sip out of the Oolong tea that Shin had brewed, Lady Seph reclined back on her chair as she addressed the two individuals sitting on the other sides of the roundtable that she had set up.
Representing the Himmel Empire, General Elbert sat up straight with pride with his fully-covered helmet resting to his side. The warrior’s rectangular face was crisscrossed with a multitude of battle scars that started from his broad forehead to his chiselled chin. His dark eyes rested beneath the thick black eyebrows somehow made him seem more intimidating than he already was. With a shoulder width of over half a metre wide, the hulk of a man appeared to be a giant in a dwarf’s room as he nestled uncomfortably on his position. However, since he was afraid of upsetting the other two behemoths in the room, the General folded his arms tightly while nodding his head.
“Of course! I’d love to see more of Shin!” From Lady Seph’s left, an excited voice that somehow managed to retain a melodious tune replied to the elderly woman.
Representing the Healer’s Association, Her Holiness, Lady Althea smiled so wide that her eyes had turned into two horizontal lines. Her luxurious black hair profoundly enhanced the pure white priestly robes that concealed her womanly curves. The golden biretta that sat squarely on the crown of her head amplified her regal demeanour, giving all who laid eyes on her a reason to bow down in submission. Yet, unlike her supposed lofty self, Lady Althea beamed in happiness as her gaze landed on the black-haired youth that she was just introduced to.
It was strange for a Spirit Saint to express interest in a mere Spirit Apostle as they were heavens apart, but it goes to show how valuable Shin’s talent was in the eyes of the Healer’s Association. In recent years, the number of healers had been dwindling and a significant reason why was because there had been no mythical figures among the new generation to motivated youngsters to join the trade. For instance, when Lady Seph first became famous after the incident in Yara Pass, the number of healer applicants skyrocketed as they aspired to become somewhat like the legendary hero. However, that was decades ago, and very few of the younger generation idolised the esteemed healer anymore.
Therefore, if Shin were willing to become the face of the Healer’s Association, the youngest healer in history would hopefully boost recruitment efforts and increase the overall number of healers in the long run. Unaware that he was being targeted by one of the most influential individuals in the entire world, Shin naively served tea to the two guests and returned to stand behind Lady Seph’s chair.
“Thank you. Then let’s begin this meeting. As you all know, Aldrich’s Keep had been overrun by beasts…” Lady Seph started the conversation with an introductory topic. However, before she could continue on, the pale white hands raised itself and stopped the elderly woman from continuing.
“Seph, you can skip the chitter-chatter. All of us present know the details. What’s more important is the threat of the Allfather that you mentioned.”
“…” General Elbert wordlessly nodded his head to Lady Althea’s comments. Before they had even reached the waypoint, they were both briefed on the severity of the situation. Under the Emperor’s orders, General Elbert led a hundred-thousand strong army towards the West where the beast horde had broken through. Additionally, a further thousand of the Empire’s best builders were sent to repair the now decrepit fort with a newly bestowed Guardian Rock that was gifted from the Spirit Saint ancestor that guarded the Himmel Empire.
Lady Althea, on the other hand, brought a large number of healers from the Association to help assist with the restoration of damaged lives due to the beast epidemic. Although the Healer’s Association remained neutral in all political matters, in times of distress, they were the first to react with foreign aid. That’s why even though their organisation was arguably one of the largest in history, the three major powers merely let them be. If any single one of the major powers decided to launch an assault against the Healer’s Association, the other two would not simply sit back and watch the organisation fall.
However, the likelihood of any of the superpowers waging war against the Healer’s Association was highly improbable. After all, the majority of their domestic healers were indebted to the Association for training them to become great physicians. Should there be an assault on the Association for whatever reason, the first to revolt would be the healers from their very own country.
“Hah… As impatient as always… Fine, I’ll just skip ahead. When I was in the Uncharted Wilderness scouting a fallen checkpoint, I found a Black Mask base. Me being me, I knocked out everyone with my ability before entering the damp cave.”
“Naturally.” Nodding her head in agreement, Lady Althea approved of her disciple’s reaction to finding a base.
‘As much as she doesn’t want to admit it, Lady Seph really did learn everything from Grandmaster huh…’ Shin mentally sighed at the resemblance of the two women.
“Leaving the gathering of evidence to my then assistant, I felt a strange energy being emitted from the depths of the cavern. Venturing in blindly, I hoped to find the source of that intangible power, and that’s when I saw it…” Closing her eyes, the elderly woman’s eyelids started quivering as she recalled her terrorising experience back in the Uncharted Wilderness. Teeth chattering and fingers twitching, Lady Seph tried her best to keep her feelings under control as her face turned pale blue.
“I saw a black floating orb. The moment I laid eyes on that thing, my entire being just froze over. It was as if I had been possessed and restrained. I couldn’t see into the floating orb, but what I can tell you is all I felt was fear… No other emotion. Just pure, unadulterated fear… The entity that created the orb was no mere human. The spiritual energy that I felt was much more frightening than anything I have ever faced before. Yes, that also includes you, Althea…” Hunching her back forwards while cupping her hands together on her knees, Lady Seph looked at her Master, with trepidation still in the depths of her soul.
“It was that bad for you huh…” Meeting her gaze, Lady Althea put her dainty hands on her perfectly shaped face as she became lost in thought.
“I don’t know the true identity of the Allfather that the Black Mask syndicate worships. It may be a forgotten Spirit Saint that had become too powerful for the mortal world and wanted to kill some time by forming this sick group. Or perhaps it is a Primordial Beast that existed since time immemorial. But, what truly frightens me is the third possibility.”
“What is it?” Urging her disciple to spill her theory, Lady Althea looked at the elderly blonde woman with a little urgency in her eyes.
“It is the most far-fetched theory that I have, and the chances of it being true are possibly zero. However, it also is the best explanation for the immense power that I had felt… And that is the fact that the Allfather might be a descended Immortal from the heavens above.”
Every single one of the other members attending the meeting expressed their shock differently. General Elbert stood up abruptly, nearly flipping the roundtable in the process. Shin gasped in horror as he almost fell over his chair while the final person, Lady Althea, frowned deeply as she shot her student a menacing glare.
“One must be careful with their own words… Do you have any evidence to back that ludicrous claim, Seph?”
“No… That’s why I said that it’s a longshot. In a world where we don’t even know where Spirit Immortals go to when the ascend or why they aren’t able to contact the mortal world after they’re gone, it is a real crazy guess. I just based it off of some rumours that I had heard about the Allfather. About the fact that he is a descended Immortal sent to punish the system and bring salvation to the masses.” Shaking her head like a broken pendulum, Lady Seph showed how wild her conjecture really was.
“Well, if he really is a descended Immortal, he could just kill all of us with a snap of his fingers. Why would he bother to found an organisation that does petty crime for a large part of its early years?” General Elbert, who had been silent all these while, raised a logical question.
“I don’t know. The only reason why I brought it up is because of all the rumours floating around.”
“What rumours?” Since Lady Althea had not been living in the Himmel Empire, she remained mostly oblivious to the rumours surrounding the mysterious Allfather that led the Black Mask syndicate.
“Your Holiness, after we apprehended some of the Dalits, the members of the lowest level in the Black Masks, they have been blurting out crazed chants that infer that the Allfather is actually a descended Immortal sent to smite all of the oppressors in the mortal world.” Assisting Lady Seph with her explanation, General Elbert spoke out loud.
“Hmph! Just a bunch of lunatics! Seraphim, don’t tell me you actually believe the words of degraded fanatics!”
“Althea… No, Master… You have no idea the tremendous power that I felt…”
“…” Stunned speechless by her disciple’s despondent reply, Lady Althea furrowed her eyebrows in disbelief.
“That power shook me to my very core. Although I know that it is a stretch, saying that the Allfather is a descended Immortal actually validates that otherworldly strength that he wielded. Not to mention, he is able to mobilise two Tier 9 Spirit Beasts on a whim.”
“… It really impacted you that much?” After a short pause and a cursory scan of Lady Seph’s sombre expression, the black-haired beauty let out a short sigh. Lady Seph was a Rank 79 Spirit Emperor, and in her life, she had faced her fair share of overwhelmingly strong opponents. Furthermore, with her connections, the number of Spirit Saints that she had met face-to-face were not few. Yet, her evaluation of the new foe that had appeared in the Himmel Empire exceeded anything that she had ever met.
“Yes… Yes, it did… The threat of the Black Masks is a real one, Master… That’s why we require all the firepower that we can get! We need to destroy the core of the organisation before it grows to be too big. Right now, the Black Mask syndicate is still in its infancy, meaning that there’s still a chance. However, if the three major powers still continue to play on their own political board, once they fully understand the threat of the Allfather and his minions, it would be too late!” As a healer, Lady Seph had a huge passion for life. Preserving life, celebrating its vices. The experienced healer loved human life.
Right now, the Black Mask syndicate was still rather small as their operations still bordered on petty crime, but it wasn’t long until their forces grew stronger. By then, adding on the power of the Allfather, Lady Seph was confident that a devastating war that would shake the continent would commence. In that war to come, countless of innocent lives would be lost.
Currently, the three major powers still held the advantage. In fact, just the full force of the Himmel Empire could probably topple all the bases of the criminal organisation. However, since the armies of the Empire couldn’t be easily moved in fear of an invasion, it would take decades for them to weed out the Black Masks.
Shin, who had been simply standing behind Lady Seph’s chair with his arms behind his back, gulped down a mouthful of saliva as he recollected the fearful appearance of the Gargantuan Treant. If the Black Masks were still growing, what kind of heights could it possible reach in the future?
“Hah… Fine, I’ll talk to Raphael to communicate with the Kori Federation and the Lantis Republic. Although the Healer’s Association can’t guarantee that they’ll listen…” Speaking in the position as the representative of the Healer’s Association, Lady Althea replied to Lady Seph.
“Likewise. I will report your warnings straight to His Majesty. But Lady Seph, you must understand that to convince the entire Imperial Court would be a momentous task, even for our sovereign. Please give us some time.” General Elbert lowered his head with both his hands on his knees.
“I know. I’m not expecting overnight change. However, this must be expedited so that we deal with the Black Masks as soon as possible. Otherwise, it would be too late.” Lady Seph gestured to the lanky General to raise his head while addressing the two.
“I understand. I will relay that to His Majesty. I’ll be taking my leave. If you need anything from me, I will be staying at the Mayor’s Office for the moment.” Standing up from his chair, General Elbert gave the two esteemed women a quick bow before turning to the door.
“Wait, Elbert… There’s something I need to ask from you.” However, before he could leave, an adenoidal voice stopped him. Lady Seph, who seemed reluctant to voice her thoughts, clenched her fist while shooting glances between her beloved disciple and the muscular warrior.
“Yes, you can ask me anything, my Lady.”
“Ermmm… Ahhh… Hah…” Countless ideas flew through her mind in that short time-span that she called out for the General. Nonetheless, after five seconds, Lady Seph seemed to have steeled her mind and gave the unsuspecting warrior a resolute look.
“Elbert… Tell me about the Imperial Military Academy.”