“The tragedy of war is that there is always a victim of it. To face the inevitable, the brave warriors of the Keep fought to the very end. I’m sure many of you have lost an acquaintance, a friend or perhaps even a family member in this battle. I know I sure did. Anmac was a good friend of mine, and up to this day, I still can’t believe that he is truly gone…” Lady Seph’s eyes turned mournful as many in the audience felt themselves choking up.
The battle for Aldrich’s Keep had resulted in a loss, but perhaps that worst part of the battle wasn’t that the myth of its invincibility was lost, but the death of countless of loved ones. Once Shin heard his Master’s words, he lifted up the metal dog tag in his left hand and calmly read out the name.
Although the time Shin shared with Ronlen was extremely brief, the impact that the man had on his life was massive. Ronlen was Shin’s first ever patient that he had successfully treated, but he was also the first patient that Shin unsuccessfully healed. Ever since that day, Shin grew curious about the life of Ronlen and went through the army records, hoping that he could personally deliver the fallen soldier’s dog tag to his family. However, as it turned out, like Shin, Ronlen was too an orphan. No relatives. No loved ones. No children. Just a lone ranger that fought his hardest to protect the land that he had no real obligation to.
“Shin…” Ariel, who had rarely left Shin’s side since his emotional outburst, gently grabbed his right hand to give the boy some semblance of comfort. As if by reflex, Shin’s fingers intertwined with Ariel’s as they had gotten used to each other’s touch.
‘Right, I’m not alone…’
Although Shin and Ronlen had many things in common, Ronlen wasn’t picked up by a major clan when he was orphaned. Reading through his background, Shin found out that the man didn’t know his parents and was abandoned at a young age. Growing up prowling the streets of a major town, Ronlen fought his way up into the military and eventually managed to land a job defending Aldrich’s Keep. Unlike Shin, there was no real family that Shin could deliver Ronlen’s dog tag to.
“I know Anmac. He loved doing what he did. Many called him stupid for devoting his entire life to Aldrich’s Keep when he could have easily climbed up the ranks in the Capital. However, since he was born in the west, Anmac had grown up in an environment that was rife with Spirit Beasts terrorising the populace.” Feeling a single teardrop fall down her cheeks, Lady Seph started to reminisce about her good friend.
“When many underestimated the threat of the Uncharted Wilderness, Anmac refused to do so. He had seen the devastation a beast horde could cause and remained adamant in his belief to protect the western border.”
Every single one of the soldiers listening to Lady Seph’s speech had seen the General’s devotion first-hand. General Anmac committed his entire career to Aldrich’s Keep and fought for it to his very last breath. Commander Alwig stroked the silver cane as he thought back on the many lessons that the aged warrior had imparted to him. It could be said that General Anmac was more than a mentor for the blonde knight. All of a sudden, Commander Alwig’s vision turned watery as his tear glands started to overflow.
“On that day, we’ve lost many of the world’s finest. General Anmac being one of them. But their memory will not be forgotten! The battle for Aldrich’s Keep may have resulted in our loss, but the war for our lands isn’t over!” Clutching her hands together in prayer, Lady Seph summoned out the Iofiel Angel.
“Let us give them their Final Salute!!!”
“*AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!*” The crowd exploded with a huge roar as they all performed a military salute. As if waiting for that signal, the Iofiel Angel glistened in a holy aura and shot a radiant beam of light at the stone monument that stood behind Lady Seph.
The names on the dull stone slab turned into a vibrant golden colour as the light illuminated them as if giving some form of life to the inanimate object. Imbued in Lady Seph’s powerful mana, the stone monument stored the gentle spiritual energy deep within itself, creating a force field that would preserve the glorified gravestone for aeons to come.
Tightening his grip on Ariel’s cold palms, Shin felt a wave of emotions overcome him. The time he spent in Aldrich’s Keep was undoubtedly short, but it was the longest week that he had lived thus far.
“Thank you, my Lady. You have helped us tremendously over the course of your stay. Words cannot accurately describe my gratitude towards you.” At the foot of the broken eastern walls, a small convoy with multiple aether cars stood immobile as a blonde knight bowed down at a ninety-degree angle towards an elderly woman.
After performing the funeral rites for General Anmac and the other fallen warriors of Aldrich’s Keep, Lady Seph and the rest of the Frie Clan members had little reason to remain. In fact, since Lady Seph had a meeting with the representatives of the Himmel Empire and the Healer’s Association, she had to rush back to Chilyoja Waypoint as soon as she could.
“It’s nothing, Alwig. It was Anmac who had called me over in the first place. To think that he just went off and died just like that…” Time didn’t change Lady Seph’s venomous tongue but even as she cursed her now deceased friend, a sombre expression of pain could be sensed in her bright eyes.
“Nonetheless, if you weren’t here, perhaps there would have been no survivors. Thus, I owe you my eternal gratitude.” Unfazed by the elderly woman’s sny remarks, Commander Alwig continued to bow down in thankfulness. Lady Seph’s constant casting of Divine Rain was what made the army hold out for so long, killing over forty thousand Spirit Beasts in the process. Additionally, when the battle was over, it was Lady Seph who led the healers to recover the injured bodies, saving hundreds of lives in the process.
“Yeah, yeah… Anyway, what are your plans now Alwig? Are you still going to remain in the Keep?” Now that there was no more Aldrich’s Keep, Commander Alwig had no obligation to stay in this remote place and could enter the military properly.
“Yes, I will stay. After all, this is my home, no matter how torn down it is, Aldrich’s Keep will always be the place that I return to.”
“Hmmm, sounds taxing. Whatever floats your boat I guess… For old times sake, if you need anything, you can always find me at Chilyoja Waypoint. Although I can’t promise that I would help you personally, I could utilise some of my connections.”
“Thank you, my Lady! Your generosity is boundless.” While the blonde knight was praising the esteemed healer, he wore a face that seemed to have swallowed a bitter pill. He was hesitant to speak the exact words in his mind. However, his uncertainty didn’t go unnoticed.
“What is it? You have been wearing the same expression for a long time. If you have something to say, just spill it out.” Annoyed, Lady Seph sharply snapped at her junior.
“If that’s the case, please pardon my candour. Lady Seph… Shin… He is from the Awter Clan, am I right?” The volume of Commander Alwig’s voice turned so soft that it was basically a cicada’s whisper. He was well aware of the elderly woman’s temper, and Shin was basically her most precious treasure. However, he knew that the words that he had hidden in the depths of his mind had to be said eventually.
The atmosphere instantly turned cold as Lady Seph glared viciously at the blonde knight. Her demeanour had changed from a courteous one into a rabid beast that would do anything to protect her child. Only after a comprehensive scan of Commander Alwig and determining that he meant no harm did she release a deep sigh.
“What of it?” Admitting to his claim, Lady Seph waited for the blonde knight’s next words.
“As I’d thought… Lady Seph, it may not be in my place to say so but would you be willing to listen to a piece of advice.”
“Although I do not know how the Frie Clan is involved with Shin and yourself, once the Longyu Clan finds out that a direct descendant of the Awter Clan is still alive, they would dispatch all of their manpower to recover him for the Lantis Republic, and once that day comes, not even you can save him.” Sending an ominous warning down Lady Seph’s way, the blonde knight rekindled the old fear that had plagued the elderly woman the moment she accepted Shin into her tutelage.
“What are you getting at, Alwig?”
“Forgive me for saying this but Lady Seph, you might be strong, but you are no match for the might of the Longyu Clan and those that stand behind it. Especially that old ancestor of theirs that once dominated the three major powers with her godlike abilities. The best way to prevent Shin from being kidnapped by the Lantis Republic is to send him to the Imperial Military Academy, where he would be protected under the flag of the Himmel Empire.”
“You dare tell me to send Shin to the military?!” At that point, Lady Seph burst out in hysteria.
“Please, my Lady… Take one second to seriously think about it. Why did the Lantis Republic not annihilate the Frie Clan after finding out that they decimated the Awter Clan? Wasn’t precisely because the Frie Clan was backed by the Empire during that war? To prevent a full-on war, the Longyu Clan was forced to swallow the bitter pill and simply follow the instructions of the other seven ancestor clans that run the Republic!” Facing the full brunt of Lady Seph’s rage, Commander Alwig was under immense pressure to back away and cease his words. However, currently, his belief trumped all logic that he had, and he continued to press on.
“Shin is the youngest healer in history and adding to the fact that he is related to the Longyu Clan, there is no doubt that the Lantis Republic would come for him. By then, it would be too late! You won’t be able to protect him from all the Spirit Venerates of the Longyu Clan not to mention the divine ancestor of theirs! Would you rather Shin be sent to the Lantis Republic where you would never meet him again or would you prefer him to join the Imperial Academy? After all, both you and Shin share the same birthplace, the Himmel Empire. Please, just take a moment to consider it…” Alwig was almost tempted to fall to his knees as he made that plea.
“…” Stunned speechless by the young man’s outburst, Lady Seph stood rooted to the ground with her fists tightly clenched. It was not that she hadn’t considered that line of thinking. It was just that she refused to receive any more help from the Empire that had caused her that much pain. However, as Shin grew older and more powerful, more and more people would know his name, and eventually, the Lantis Republic would come knocking on her door.
“Y-You… Hah… Fine… I’ll consider it…”
Finally giving in to the blonde knight, Lady Seph quietly retreated from her position and sauntered her way to the convoy that was eagerly waiting for her arrival. At that moment, the juggernaut of a healer seemed to be ever so small.