“After the Gargantuan Treant broke down both walls of the Keep, it created a path for the beast horde and disappeared shortly afterwards. Due to that, the beasts easily entered the lands of the Himmel Empire.” Commander Alwig went through every single incident that had occurred leading to the Keep’s eventual demise.
“I see… If that’s the case, there was really nothing more that you could have done. We had severely underestimated this threat.” Rubbing his sharp chin, the Emperor thought out loud.
“I thank Your Majesty for your immeasurable grace!”
“Alwig, remember this, you and the remainder of your subordinates are blameless. Since senior Anmac and senior Seraphim were both present in the Keep, in theory, you should have been able to weather through that crisis. But to think that this Black Mask syndicate is that strong… Hah, we have been focusing too much on the northern and eastern borders. To think that not one Rank 80 Spirit Venerate was present to defend the Keep.” Rubbing the temples of his forehead, the Emperor reflected on his oversight.
Recently, due to the increasing tensions between the Kori Federation and the Himmel Empire, the elders in the Capital all suggested that troops be pulled from the insignificant southern and western borders to strengthen the northern and eastern ones. Therefore, there was not a single Spirit Venerate that was anywhere near Aldrich’s Keep that could offer his or her assistance.
“Also one more thing Tenno, I mean Your Majesty.” Accidentally calling the sovereign by his name once more, Lady Seph coughed dryly to correct her words.
“I think that there is a real need to discuss the Allfather’s existence with the Healer’s Association.”
“Why is that?”
“I wish to convey the threat to not only the Himmel Empire but the other two major powers as well. However, given that the Himmel Empire’s relationship with the Kori Federation isn’t in the best of places, perhaps the neutral Healer’s Association would help.” Lady Seph explained her logic.
The Healer’s Association was a unique entity on the Terre Continent. Since its formation, it had never involved itself in the politics between the nations and had always remained neutral. Following the doctrines laid down by its founder, Immortal Hippocrates, the Healer’s Association had continually taken a negative stance against fighting in any battles.
“That sounds like a good idea. In fact, the Lantis Republic has been rather distant as of late, so having the Healer’s Association aware of this threat would prove to be beneficial.” The Emperor nodded his head in agreement.
“Did something go wrong with the Lantis Republic?”
“Of the eight ancient clans that govern the republic, the Longyu Clan has essentially cut all ties with our Empire due to the demise of the Awter Clan. Although the other clans still maintain an amicable relationship with us, the Longyu Clan’s influence is not to be trifled with.”
At the Emperor’s new information, everyone in the communication room froze in their place. Commander Alwig slowly raised his head and stared at Lady Seph once the Awter name was brought up, hoping to see some sort of reaction. Unfortunately, the beautiful woman remained stoic, and no one could accurately read her thoughts.
“Nonetheless, the encroaching hands of the Allfather would eventually make its ways to their shores. We should set aside our differences to combat the Black Mask syndicate.” Changing the topic, Lady Seph resolutely declared.
“…” Hearing her words, the Emperor remained silent for a few seconds. After letting the silence sink in, he replied: “Did he terrify you that much, Senior Seraphim?”
“Your Majesty. If what I felt was just a portion of his power, he might be the strongest being in the entire world.”
“I see… Alright then, how do you propose we meet? Are you willing to come back to the Capital?”
“You know that won’t happen, Your Majesty…” Still folding her arms in akimbo, Lady Seph sharply denied the preposterous idea that the Emperor had proposed.
The eyes of the two juggernauts clashed, and even though they were thousands, if not tens of thousands of kilometres away, the tension between the two still could suffocate any weak Spirit User.
“Alwig, leave us.”
“Y-Yes! Your Majesty!”
Taking one last peek at the gorgeous blonde woman, Commander Alwig retreated the room alongside all the other operatives, so that Lady Seph and the Emperor could have a private conversation. When the doors firmly slammed shut, the regal middle-aged man in the mirror started to speak:
“Senior Seraphim, you still can’t forgive the Empire? The Elders were just trying to strengthen us, and no one got hurt. Additionally…”
“Shut up, Tenno! You should know my personality by now! I will not back down! Don’t think for one second that because I am contacting you, I had forgiven the Empire for what it had done! As far as I’m concerned, everyone related to that incident is as good as dead.” Screaming out at the top authority in the land, Lady Seph’s eyebrows quivered as her nostrils flared up. Clearly, she was still agitated by the actions of the past.
“If that’s the case, why try to help us?”
“It just so happens that the threat the Allfather poses supercedes my hate for all of you. You guys may be unpardonable, but the countless of lives that rely on your soil certainly isn’t. A war that breaks the many years of peace is the last thing that I want…” Taking a deep breath in, and while closing her eyes, Lady Seph thought back about the incident that happened many moons before.
“I see… Fine, I’ll respect your choice. I’ll send General Elbert to your location, at the same time, I’ll dispatch an army a hundred thousand strong to help clear the beasts that are currently plaguing the west.” Initially, the Emperor had held hope of reconciliation with the esteemed healer. After all, when she was working for him, Lady Seph had proved herself to be a great asset multiple times. However, seeing how adamant she was, the Emperor could only resign to his fate.
“Thank you, Tenno…”
“It’s nothing. By the way, where are you planning to host the meeting?”
“Send Elbert to Chilyoja Waypoint. That’s where I currently reside.”
“Chilyoja Waypoint?! You’re living there now?!” For the first time, the Emperor turned wide-eyed from shock. He had been searching for clues about Lady Seph’s whereabouts for years, and as it turned out, she had been hiding right under his nose this entire time.
“Yeah, I’ll be contacting the Healer’s Association from my end. Also, one more thing. I will be performing the funeral rites for those who died in this battle… For Anmac… I’m sure you won’t mind would you?”
“Naturally! It’s a pity that we have lost Senior Anmac… I’m sure he would be elated if he knew your feelings.”
“Shut it, Tenno…” A wry smile crept up the beautiful blonde woman’s face as she thought of her long-time friend. The battle for Aldrich’s Keep had resulted in a massive loss, both for the Empire and for herself. The least that she could do was personally see her good friend off.
News that Aldrich’s Keep had been overrun by beasts took the entire Himmel Empire by storm. The legendary Keep has always been known for its impregnable status and a reliable shield in the West, and yet, it had fallen. Every single soul living within the abundant lands of the Empire all retreated to the safety of their homes and made the necessary precautions to counter any stray beasts that ventured into their homes. Family Clans immediately called back all of their operatives while towns and villagers allocated fighters to patrol the area round the clock.
The top brass of the Himmel Empire was naturally aware of the severe threat that its citizens were under and the Emperor had ordered one of the Capital’s top generals to march to the West with a hundred thousand strong army. Major cities in the west also did their best to expedite the allocation of resources to help those in crisis. However, oddly enough, since the sixty thousand Spirit Beasts invaded the country, there had been minimal attacks on the population, lulling many into a false sense of security.
As if vanishing into a puff of smoke, the beast horde had all but disappeared. Other than the occasional wild Spirit Beast attacking a farm for food, there had been no sightings of the sixty thousand strong beast horde, causing the military to be greatly confused. They had been dispatched to hunt the beasts, and yet, there were no leads on where they were hiding.
Three days had passed since the fort was overrun and destroyed. While the army from the Capital was still busy marching down, a sombre atmosphere descended upon the run-down Aldrich’s Keep as Commander Alwig initiated the Grand Burial. Of the ten thousand men that stayed in the military base, only three thousand survived the onslaught. Aldrich’s Keep had always prided itself on its low casualty count throughout the years when it faced the purge yet ironically, on that fateful day, the number of soldiers who passed on reached a record number. A total of seven thousand either dead or missing and to top it all off, the General that had stood by the Keep all of his career had passed on together with its legacy.
Needless to say, it was the greatest tragedy that the Himmel Empire had sustained in recent years. Due to the terrible death count and the insufficient manpower, the remnants of Aldrich’s Keep could only collect the identification tags of those who died and record their names into a log so that sufficient reparations could be sent back to their grieving families. However, since many of the bodies were not in a whole state, Commander Alwig decided to burn the corpses altogether and have Lady Seph perform the funeral rites for his brothers that had passed.
“We gather here today in memory of the valiant soldiers of Aldrich’s Keep that have perished in the battle three days ago.” Standing in front of a large crowd, Lady Seph began her speech.
Amongst those present, Commander Alwig was holding on to a silver cane as gently as he possibly could. General Anmac was a simple man, he did not lavish in owning otherworldly possessions and abhorred the use of unnecessary luxuries. It was evident from his frugality that the wizened man was a down-to-earth person and yet, the only luxury item that he owned was this silver cane that followed him everywhere.
When Commander Alwig and the other soldiers went far out into the barren fields that bordered Aldrich’s Keep in search of fallen brothers, they could not find the old general’s body. However, they did manage to identify a gigantic crater that contained a large amount of ash and residue mana. Initially, they fantasised that the acclaimed general might have survived the encounter with the Tier 9 Spirit Beast and was hiding somewhere, waiting for someone to save him, but once they found the silver cane, it was evident that the worst possible thing had happened. General Anmac had passed on, leaving nothing but his trusty cane behind.
Up high on the battlements, Shin and the other Frie Clan members stayed in one corner while watching blonde elderly woman addressing the remaining soldiers. Once twenty-four hours were up, Lady Seph lost all of her youthful looks as the after-effects of using self-rejuvenation kicked in. Losing all power within her body, the elderly woman fell into a coma for twelve hours with Shin tenderly taking care of her by her side. The plump and healthy skin of hers had turned frail and grey. Creased wrinkles became more prevalent on her face and arms causing her to look even older than she was before. Only after a full day of nourishment and constant care did Lady Seph return to her ordinary self.
“We give thanks to those who had served us, protected us and ultimately died for us. For them, their journey is just beginning, yet for all of us here, we mourn and grieve their loss.” Lady Seph amplified her voice as she began her eulogy.
Taking a quick look backwards, the elderly woman gingerly glanced at the tall stone monument with thousands of names carved onto it. Since each body was burned and their ashes buried, to commemorate their lives, Commander Alwig built a stone monument and personally carved each name onto the memorial. It took him hours to complete the carvings, but in the end, it was all worth it. At the top of the entire stone pillar, a simple sentence stood high above the rest of the names.
‘Remembering General Anmac.’
As Lady Seph read those three words, her mind was filled with countless memories. Rubbing the corners of her reddened eyes, she calmed herself as she continued on with her speech.