Five days had passed since Shin went on the short expedition to save the downed trading caravan. The carcasses of the Tempest Storm Wolf and the Grey Storm Wolves were swiftly disposed of as trading routes resumed as per usual. Many of the injured traders had regained consciousness and were on the fast track to recovery. To show their gratitude, the traders had sent a large sum of gifts and monetary rewards to those who saved them. Shin, being one of the healers who went, had received a significant amount of gold that far exceeded his monthly stipend.
In the first place, Shin was not a big spender, and he had quite a large sum of money saved up in the bank. The only times that he had to take out cash from his savings was to either fund Junius’ search party or to buy gifts for the orphans when they visited.
“Shin, why are you smiling like an idiot?” As the young teen was drunk on excitement, a cold voice brought him back to reality.
“Master! I just got some money, that’s all… With this sum, I can buy some nice gifts for Elyse and Ariel!” Showing off the bank note that the traders had presented him with, Shin showed off his earnings to the frowning elderly woman.
“Hmmm, that is quite a bit… Speaking of that red-haired lass, isn’t she visiting here soon?” Lady Seph thought out loud.
It was no secret that Shin and the Frie Clan were on sour terms. Members of the Mushinkei, such as Riko and Marshall, had tried many times to bring him back but they were all to no avail. Only Ariel, who had supported him through thick and thin, was able to meet Shin on a regular basis. From the first day that Shin was exiled, Ariel had been visiting him once a month under the guise of buying souvenirs for the orphans. However, the young maiden’s true motives were to check on the well-being of her childhood friend. After all, since he was forced out, Ariel had her worries about how he was going to adapt to the new environment.
As time progressed, the monthly visits by Ariel had turned into a routine that both parties looked forward to. During that one day where she visited, the duo would share stories about each other’s life. Ariel would tell Shin all about the orphans back on the mountain and Shin would tell Ariel about how he was coping with the harsh training of Lady Seph. Therefore, among all of Shin’s acquaintances, Ariel was the one who knew the most about him.
“Yeah, she’s supposed to reach here tomorrow I think.” Based on the letters that she had sent, Ariel was meant to reach the waypoint tomorrow morning. Looking forward to seeing the freckled face of hers once more, Shin unknowingly broke out into a wide smile.
“Shin, I know I had asked you this question many times before, but I’ll still ask it anyway…” Lady Seph eyes glistened as she stared deeply into the confused expression of her disciple. “You like that lass, don’t ya…”
“That…” Shin’s cheeks flushed with a tinge of red as he brought his gaze to the floor.
Indeed, it was a question that Lady Seph had asked him multiple times. Every single time the topic got brought up, Shin simply brushed it off, saying that they were just close friends. However, as time progressed and his mind grew more mature, Shin realised that his feelings towards the young girl weren’t that simple. From young, he had dreaded being near her as Shin feared that he would break a bone from her rampant hits. Nonetheless, he didn’t loathe her personality. After all, outside of training, Ariel would share many loveable and tender moments that showed that she genuinely cared for him.
During his times of weakness, Ariel was the first person there to console him. When Junius was in a coma, she was there. When Shin left Frie Mountain for Chilyoja Waypoint, she was there. When Shin failed to heal Ronlen and blamed himself for his death, Ariel was there to comfort him. When Shin found out that Junius was gone and resented himself for it, she was there. A fair-weathered friend, she was not. A friend… She was not…
“I think so…” Finally admitting the fact that he had buried so deeply into the recesses of his mind, Shin deeply sighed.
“I like her… I like her, but we can’t be together… At least not yet… Junius is still missing, and I will be moving away for six years.”
“Shin, I’m sure you know that it doesn’t work that way. From what I can tell, that lass likes you as much if not even more than you like her. Even if you don’t make it official, when the time comes, I’m sure she will.” Being Shin’s Master, Lady Seph was probably the only person in the world that could clearly comprehend how the two felt towards each other. In the four and a half years that Shin had entered her tutelage, she had seen the duo’s relationship grow and knew many of their stories. The fights that they had, the sweet atmosphere that they created. Everything.
“You think?” For some reason, hearing someone else tell him that Ariel liked him made his face burn hot in fervour.
“Hah… What am I to do with you… Whatever, just leave! Your delighted face makes me sick! Go cash in that bank note or something!!!” Pissed off at Shin’s high spirits, Lady Seph pretended to be disgusted as she shooed him out of her study.
“Haha, I’ll do just that!” Folding up the banknote that he was holding, Shin stuck his tongue out like a mischievous child and quickly exited his Master’s study.
The footsteps of the young teen grew fainter and fainter as he proceeded to run down the stairs, leaving the elderly woman alone in the spacious chambers. Recalling the silly face of her disciple, Lady Seph flashed a rare warm smile. However, after a short moment, as she remembered a sour fact, her beaming smile turned into a deep frown.
“To think that one day, a descendant of the Frie Clan would start a relationship with one from the Awter Clan… Edward, oh Edward… I know that you wish to cleanse your clan’s sins but is this truly the right way to do it? Once Shin’s knows the truth, would things stay the same?” Closing her eyes, Lady Seph reclined back on her chair as she took a deep breath.
For the first time, the blonde elderly woman was starting to harbour some doubts. She didn’t know if telling Shin everything was the right thing to do in his current state. Junius had been missing for nearly two years and the person who stood by him all these while, supporting him with every foolish decision he made, was precisely someone from the Frie Clan. Not to mention, the feelings that he had for the young girl exceeded those of regular friends. Should Shin find out about his true heritage, once Lady Seph opened Pandora’s Box, won’t everything change?
“No… Shin deserves to know the truth. I must tell him before he falls deeper in love. He should know everything before he starts the relationship…” Gingerly opening her eyes, Lady Seph stared at the empty ceiling, steeling her resolve.
“I’ll tell him after the lass leaves… That way, he gets to enjoy one more day in bliss…” As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss. Not knowing what to expect, Lady Seph shook her head and continued to conduct her research.
“Haha, I think I can buy some nice clothes for Elyse tomorrow!” A youthful voice muttered underneath his breath as he wandered down the bustling streets of the commercial hub.
Straight after leaving Yakkyoku Clinic, Shin headed for the sole bank in town to cash in the banknote that he had received as payment. Extremely satisfied after checking his account balance, the young teen merrily skipped back, fantasising about all the luxurious items that he could buy for his family back on the mountain.
During the time where Junius had disappeared, Shin had stepped up and tried to fill his elder brother’s shoes. Always trying to be a solid pillar of support for the heartbroken orphans, Shin had done everything he could. Buying daily necessities such as new items of clothing and sending nourishment herbs over, the young teen had done his best to become a second Junius. Unfortunately, the void created by Junius’ disappearance wasn’t that easily filled.
“I wonder what would Emma and Elyse want?” Thinking out loud, Shin pondered to himself.
Of all the orphans on the mountain, without question, the ones that he was closest to were Emma and Elyse. Emma had always been the sensible and caring voice in his life while Elyse was the little sister that he couldn’t help but pamper. For the remainder of the orphans, although he loved them as a family, it was nowhere near the degree of feelings he had for Emma and Elyse. If he were to compare their relationships, Emma and Elyse were like his biological sisters while the rest of the orphans were more like his cousins that he met regularly. Naturally, the one that he was the closest to was the one who loved him more than anything else in the world.
“Hah… Junius, where the hell are you?” Recalling the bitter truth that Junius was still missing, Shin couldn’t help but let out a dismal sigh.
Over the one and a half year period, Shin had tried everything to find the missing youth, and even though there had been no signs, he still refused to believe that Junius had left the mortal world. Knowing the teen since he was born, Shin was well aware of how resilient Junius was. There was no way that he would have been taken down in a remote location that no one could find.
Unknowingly, as Shin’s mind rambled on and on about the possibilities of Junius’ current whereabouts, he found himself moving towards a less populated area of the commercial district. Before him, an opulent building, that stood about five stories high, lay to his side. The exterior of the house had remained unchanged since he last visited, forcing his mind to start reminiscing.
“The Mushinkei…” Shin uttered out.
Even though his relationship with the Frie Clan had its ups and downs, he couldn’t deny that there were many joyful memories shared in that very building. His first day at the Mushinkei where Riko showered him with hospitality and love. His daily bickerings with Junius about morning training. That fateful night where Ariel shared her dream with him. A large portion of his life was spent here. Although there were many sad memories, the happy ones trumped the miserable ones.
“Should I enter?” Shin asked himself a question that he didn’t know the answer to. After a brief period of deliberation, the young teen simply shook his head and pivoted his feet to the other direction. Shin was still unable to forgive the Frie Clan for abandoning Junius. Before he left, he glanced at the opposite side of the Mushinkei.
The empty lot that had been there ever since he first arrived at Chilyoja Waypoint, still remained unused, which was unusual for a piece of property that was in the heart of the commercial district.
“Hmmm?!” As Shin was busy observing the empty lot as if by magic, a tall hooded figure appeared at the corner of the property. Turning his front towards the perturbed youth, the figure revealed his face.
At that moment, Shin felt like lightning had struck his entire body, paralysing him in the process. His mind went blank as he recognised the distinct features of the young man’s face. Shaking, Shin brought his fingers up and pointed to the individual that stood a few metres away from him as he whispered in confusion: