“Young master, we have been talking for over an hour now! Look! The food I prepared has now turned cold!” After coming to a self-realisation, Shia exclaimed out, trying her best to withhold her snicker.
The moment Shia started to tell stories about Shin’s parents, the young teenager became engrossed with the subject and endlessly barraged her with questions. Elated that her young master had become interested in the Awter Clan, Shia patiently addressed each and every one of his queries, even adding on by recollected stories that seemed to be taken directly out of a fairy tale. Bit by bit, Shin learned about his now demised clan and his parents that led it. Each time the young woman brought up a new story, Shin’s eyes would visibly sparkle with curiosity and awe.
“It’s alright, I’m not hungry. Tell me more about my parents and the Awter Clan!” Spending over an hour with Shia, Shin’s mental defences had eroded, and he was beginning to open up to the homely young woman. The feeling he got from her was similar to how he felt about Riko that manned the counter of the Mushinkei.
“No can do! If you don’t eat, how can you regain your energy?! Come let me warm this up for you!” Retaking the dishes from the table and loading it onto the tray, Shia slowly walked towards the exit.
“At the very least, let me come with you. You can heat up the food while taking my questions outside!” After thinking about it for a while, Shin opted to go outside and watch over Shia in the kitchen. Not to mention, he needed to find out where he really was.
“Hmmm… That seems okay! Do you need help moving out of bed?” Shia happily agreed to her young master’s request while tilting her head adorably.
“No, I can manage…” Gently placing his feet on the floor, Shin affirmed that he had the energy to walk before moving all his weight onto his legs. He didn’t want a repeat of last time where he fell straight down.
Following Shia out of the master bedroom into the living room, Shin gaped in awe. On the nearest wall, there was a large glass window that nearly as big as the wall itself, allowing users to fully admire the scenery outside. Verdant tall grass that covered the entire field swayed back and forth as the gentle breeze brushed through them. Gorgeous butterflies and buzzing bees flew from flower to flower, making the fields gush out with life. In the middle of all the greenery, there was a lanky Alder tree that stood over ten metres tall. Its thick bark that was riddled with holes seemed to house various wildlife as birds made their nests on the numerous branches that were spread in all directions.
The place that Shin was brought to was well lit and filled with nature’s essence, and yet…
There was no sun.
There was no sky.
Covered by pure rock and minerals, the cave terrain suggested that Shin was currently underground. Confused by how life could flourish in such an environment, Shin couldn’t help but ask the only present person who knew some answers.
“What is this place?”
“Surprised? Haha, I was too when I first came here. This is one of the safe houses of the Black Mask syndicate. Protected by numerous charms and talismans, the house is unnoticeable from the surface, and even the strongest sensory Spirit Users would have trouble even finding this place.” Placing the food back into the pot, Shia explained to Shin while trying to start the stove.
“How can there be trees, butterflies and so much life here when the sun is blocked out? Isn’t it unnatural?”
“I don’t know… Legend has it that the Allfather was the one who created this place. Of course, no one really knows.” Shia patiently explained. For her curious young master, she would do her best to answer anything that he wished to know.
‘Allfather… Allfather again…’ Falling deep into thought, Shin pondered on the significance of that title. Not only did Vellan and Junius praise the mysterious figure, even Shia, who seemed to be the most docile person that Shin had ever met, had great admiration for the leader of a vicious criminal syndicate.
“Who is this Allfather person?”
“Young master! Mind your speech!” When Shia heard Shin’s mocking tone, she immediately dropped the pot that she was holding and rushed over with a finger on her mouth. In her eyes, there was a fear and concern that she had never shown anyone before.
“The Allfather has ears everywhere! His will is omnipresent, and his power can span large distances. If he wished to, he could kill a person with a snap of his finger from one side of the continent to the other! Please, I do not want to see him harm the young master!” Shia was legitimately distressed as she feared that the Allfather might smite the young master that they had fought so hard to retrieve.
“Okay… I’m sorry…”
“Thank you, young master. Please be mindful of your words from now on.”
“So… Who is he?”
“To be entirely honest, no one knows the true identity of the Allfather. No one had ever met him in person. In fact, we don’t even know if he’s a man or woman, or if he’s even human at all. All that we know is that his power transcends mortal comprehension.”
“Not even Vellan?” Shin questioned. Based on what Shia had told him, Vellan was a Rank 67 Spirit King and the highest supposed rank in the Black Mask syndicate, a Brahmin. If he didn’t have the authority to meet with the Allfather face to face, then who had?
“Yeah… We have heard his voice, but we have never seen him in person. That goes for the other Brahmins as well. In fact, the Black Mask syndicate is still rather young. We do not have any Rank 80 Spirit Venerates or Rank 90 Spirit Saints. Perhaps only after some of us reach that realm would we be able to finally see him.” Shia theorised.
“So there’s not even a single clue about where the Allfather came from? How is that possible?” Shin frowned as his brows came together.
“Although we don’t have any evidence, many of us feel that the Allfather is either a descended Immortal or an ancient, all-powerful Primordial Beast that transcends space and time. His power is just that unfathomable! Not to worry young master! When senior Vellan and the rest come back, I’m sure that you would be granted an opportunity to feel his spiritual energy!”
‘I’m not sure if I really want to…’ Shin thought to himself, careful not to verbalise it. If the Allfather could kill someone without even being near, then he was not an enemy that Shin wanted to antagonise.
“Where did Vellan and Junius go to?” Changing the topic, Shin nonchalantly asked.
“Hehe, you really want to know?” An impish smile crept up the young woman’s face. Resting her cheeks on her right hand, Shia playfully teased the youth.
“What do you mean?”
“Hehe, if I told you, you would be shocked… Senior Vellan had brought his men to Frie Mountain!”
“WHAT?!?!?!” Hollering out in shock, Shin slammed his fist onto the table as he stood up abruptly. “Why are they going there?!”
“It seems like the two High Elders of the clan had left the premise, creating the perfect opportunity for them to strike! Young master, you don’t have to worry! I’m sure that they would bring back our fellow kinsmen that are trapped on that dastardly mountain.” Thinking that Shin was worried about the other orphans, Shia reassured him that they would be safe and sound.
“No… That’s not what I mean…” Biting on his lip, Shin tried his best to control his emotions.
‘If Vellan and the other Black Masks attack Frie Mountain, doesn’t that mean that he would put Ariel, Linus and the other children of the main bloodline at risk?’
Based on the story that Vellan had told him, Shin knew that the remnants of the Awter Clan wanted true vengeance. They wanted the Frie Clan to suffer the exact same fate that they did, and there was no room for negotiations. Shin, being the successor to the Awter Clan, should sympathise with their sentiments and yet, all he cared for were the safety of those that treated him well in the Frie Clan.
‘Damn it! I can’t let them run amok in the Frie Clan! But… The Frie Clan massacred my family, is it really that bad for them to kill some of the adults that were part of the war? No that’s not right! Arghhh!!! I don’t know what to do!!!’ Stuck in the middle, Shin felt like his mind was about to explode from the various thoughts that ran through it.
Knowing that he was part of the Awter Clan that was annihilated, Shin could understand how Vellan and the others felt justified to take everything away from the Frie Clan. Especially after finding out about his parents, and what his life could have been if not for the vicious genocide conducted by the Frie Clan. However, as the orphan Shin who had grown up on Frie Mountain, he could not fathom seeing his loved ones die at the hands of the Black Masks. Over the years, he had formed lasting relationships with Ariel, the First Elder, the Instructor, Riko, Linus, and many more Frie Clan members. If any of them were to die, there was no way that he wouldn’t get heartbroken.
‘Screw it! I should find a way out of here first! I need to stop Junius first!’ Deciding to leave the thinking for later, Shin walked out of the cabin, hoping to find an escape route that he could use.
“Edward, I told you that you didn’t need to come. I have my ways of finding Shin…” An adenoidal voice echoed through the empty canyons.
“Well, my granddaughter sort of coerced me to come, so here I am… Not to mention, I really want to find Shin.” The First Elder stroked his messy beard as he kicked off from the ground accelerating even faster than he did before.
“Hah… That lass really likes Shin that much huh?” “*Yip!* *Yip!*.” Bingbing squealed in Lady Seph’s arms as she too sped up her pace.
“There’s nothing I can do about that… I never intended them to be in a relationship, but if that’s the outcome, all I can do is accept it.” Shaking his head with a bitter smile on his face, the First Elder recalled the tearful voice of Ariel’s.
“By the way, who the hell took Shin? Don’t tell me it’s the Black Masks again?”
“Hmph! Should be! Those retards never learnt their lesson… Not to worry, I anticipated that this might happen one day, so I placed a special spiritual signature on Shin’s body. With Bingbing’s superior sensory skills, we should be able to find him soon…”
“*Yip!* *Yip!*.” At that moment, the snowy white gerbil pointed her tail to the left, prompting the two Spirit Emperors to move in that direction.
“The fact that they keep targetting Shin… Is there a special reason?” The First Elder wondered to himself.
Shin had encountered the Black Masks three times within a five-year time span. The first was during his journey to Chilyoja Waypoint. The second was the attack on Yakkyoku Clinic, and the final one was the current successful abduction of Shin. For a young Spirit Apostle, it was abnormal, to say the least.
“You might not want to hear this Edward, but I have a theory.”
“Well, it’s two theories to be exact. Both times they explicitly targeted Shin, they wished to kidnap him. That means that he has some value to the organisation. The Black Masks move for two entities. Their clients, and themselves. So either someone paid for Shin to get abducted or they want him for themselves.”
“What are you implying?” The First Elder raised his eyebrows as he tried to follow Lady Seph’s thought process.
“Haish… You sure are dense… What I mean is, either the Lantis Republic had paid them to retrieve Shin’s Sovereign Koi for themselves or…”
Seeing the blank face of the First Elder, Lady Seph deeply sighed as she said: “Or the Black Masks contain some survivors of the Awter Clan and they want their young master back.”
“*!!!*” The elderly man eyes widened in shock as his mind began to connect the dots.
“I see… That makes sense…” With a defeated expression, the First Elder halted his steps and stared blankly on the floor.
“Like I said before, Edward. If you didn’t tell him about the Awter Clan, I will. However, if he was taken by the survivors of that dead clan… Well, you gotta be prepared for what’s to come.” Similarly stopping in her tracks, Lady Seph advised the elderly man.
“You’re right… I have been putting this matter off for too long… When we find him, regardless if he knows the truth or not… I’ll tell him. I’ll tell him everything…”