As the night darkened, and the moon reached the zenith of the Earth, Shin could feel the darkness of the world enveloping him. Sitting atop the enlarged Bingbing, Lady Seph, the First Elder and Shin pierced through the chilling twilight winds, as the Tier 8 Spirit Beast flew rapidly. Between the three individuals, there was a delicate silence as no one wanted to be the first one to talk. Shin still couldn’t look the First Elder in the eye, Lady Seph knew that it wasn’t in her place to speak and the First Elder… He was far too concerned about the safety of his granddaughter to be devoting all his attention to Shin. Nonetheless, he knew that he couldn’t drag the issue out any longer, especially after the young teen had heard the story personally from the survivors of the Awter Clan. However, no matter how experienced he was in interpersonal relationships, the First Elder was currently tongue-tied on how to begin talking about such a precarious issue.
“Elder… Is it true?” Finally unable to take it anymore, Shin muttered out softly, while still averting his eyes from the elderly man.
“Shin… How much do you know?” Before he could confirm or deny his claims, the First Elder needed to comprehend the extent of Shin’s knowledge.
It was just one word. Shin had only said one word and the First Elder had received the biggest fright that he had gotten in recent memory. The hairs on his ancient body started to stand, and a cold shiver creaked through every fibre of his being.
“Everything, elder… From how the Frie Clan killed off the Awter Clan, the clan that I was from. To the fact that… I was Errol Awter’s sole son. The heir to the Awter Clan.”
“That much huh… Then there’s no need for me to say anything more… Yes. Yes, the Frie Clan did kill off the Awter Clan.” Dropping all forms of formalities, the First Elder didn’t beat around the bush as he got straight to the point.
“Why… Why did the Frie Clan do that? WHY DID YOU KILL MY FAMILY?!?!” Shin cried out as his entire body shook in a myriad of emotions. After listening to Shia’s stories about his parents, Shin couldn’t help but wonder what life would have been like if nothing had happened fifteen years ago.
Would he have an entire loving family that he dreamed off? Would the familial warmth that he so longed for growing up as an orphan be there? Nonetheless, because of the Frie Clan’s actions, Shin wouldn’t be able to know for his entire life.
“Shin…” Moving her hand to calm the terrified disciple of hers, Lady Seph supplied some human contact, hoping to soothe Shin’s outburst of emotions.
“There are no excuses. The Frie Clan did indeed annihilate the Awter Clan. That is the undeniable fact. That is our sin. I do not ask for your forgiveness, nor do I want you to bury your hatred for us. However, I do hope that you would listen to our story… My story…” The First Elder weakly explained.
“…” Staying silent, Shin repressed his rage as he waited for the First Elder to continue. There were two sides to every coin. Shin was well aware of that fact. Even though he had listened to Vellan regarding the matter of the massacre, it seemed only fair to listen to the Frie Clan’s side of things.
“It all began in the age after Longyu Yuan first established his clan in the Himmel Empire. Initially, the region was dominated by the Frie Clan as our history was long and developed. Many clans respected us, as did the Imperial Family. In those days, we were living in a period of bliss and harmony. Therefore, when the Awter Clan came about and threatened our sovereignty, the Frie Clan was unable to stay silent.” Rapidly giving a brief overview of the two clan’s history, the First Elder’s voice turned shaky.
“In the beginning, we tried to curb the growth of the Awter Clan. After all, Longyu Yuan’s philosophy of accepting any water elemental users into the clan made it a force to be reckoned with. Our ancestors realised that if their growth continued, the Frie Clan would lose its sovereignty over the region, and because of that… Our age-long conflict began.”
When the First Elder spoke of those matters, a dejected sigh escaped his lips. His entire body that seemed so valiant in the beginning had started to show the years of battle scars and mental fatigue.
“No one remembers who fired the first shot. Back then it was just chaos upon chaos. Our clans clashed multiple times, be it due to planned or unplanned circumstances. For instance, there was once the Frie Clan dispatched a team to take down a trading caravan of the Awter Clan just because it strayed a little bit into our roads. There was also a time where the Awter Clan crippled one of our members just because they had a heated verbal exchange.”
Shin listened attentively as the First Elder recounted the timeworn stories that had been buried with the Awter Clan’s demise. There were also stories that Vellan and Shia had left out, giving Shin a new perspective of the devastating relationship that the two clans had. They obviously weren’t the best of friends in the early days prior to the Awter Clan’s massacre.
“Although the conflict was heated, it wasn’t to the point where we had to kill one another to survive. In fact, there was even a mutual respect that the two clans had for each other. Of course, we hated the Awter Clan, and I expect that they shared the same sentiments. However, since we did not want to engage in a war in which both sides would lose a significant amount of our forces, we bottled the hatred up. One generation of leaders even tried to mend the broken bridges that our ancestors had caused and ally with each other. As you would expect, the deal fell through in its infancy…” A bitter smile crept up the elderly man’s face.
“Skirmishes between the Awter Clan and us continued on for a long time, even after the deal for peace. Growing up, I had even been training to hit straw dummies of Awter Clan members. That’s how much the two clans loathed one another. So even though we were not actively fighting, our relationship was extremely volatile, so much so that just one minor thing would ignite the flames of war.”
“The aether crystal mine…” Shin uttered out without thinking.
“Exactly… Given the nature of how valuable those crystals are, there was no way that the Frie Clan would give in to the Awter Clan’s claim. If it we didn’t have the bad blood behind us, perhaps we would have been able to reach a compromise. However, neither side wished to back down, and then… It led to ‘that’ incident…” Grimly biting down on his lips, the elderly man’s eyes showed a tinge of fear and anger as he recalled the fateful event that was the catalyst to the entire tragedy.
“W-What?” Shin fearfully enquired.
“The battle for the mine… The Clan Master of the Awter Clan, your father, led his men to claim the mine for themselves. Naturally, our previous Clan Master wasn’t that thrilled and brought some of our best fighters to brawl out with them. On that day, many lives from both sides were lost, and the loss on our side that hurt the most was one of our most promising young talents… The Second Elder’s only son… And the person who killed him was… Errol Awter…”
“!!!” Shin’s eyes widened in horror. Now everything made sense to him. Why did the Second Elder’s division bully the orphans growing up? Why did the Second Elder despise the orphans with everything that he had? Why did the Second Elder order an assassination attempt on his life when he had awakened The Sovereign Koi? As it turned out, Shin was the crystallisation of every single thing that the Second Elder despised.
“From then on, everything had gone downhill. Numerous other battles ensued as countless of lives were lost. Our forces dwindled with every passing moment as despicable tactics from both sides dominated our conflict. The animosity that burned like a thousand suns only grew more blazing as we saw our comrades fall in battle. Eventually, we lost all semblance of humanity. To us, the Awter Clan were just savages that had to be utterly eradicated. It didn’t matter who they were or whether they were innocent or guilty. To us… They had to all die…”
The First Elder dropped his eyes in shame, not knowing how to face Shin. In the past, all the members of the Frie Clan were drunk with hate and anger, himself included. They didn’t think about how killing the Awter Clan would affect the thousands of innocent lives on Awter Lake. They all viewed the Awter Clan using the same lens of hatred, unaware that they themselves had degraded into savages.
“The war continued on for such a long… long… time… I can’t even count the number of times I had cried over our dead brethren being wheeled back in droves. Even… Even my… Even my only son…” Opening up a box of emotions that he had sealed many years ago, the First Elder covered his face with the red robes that he wore, preventing the young teen from witnessing his sorry state.
Shin intently stared at the now feeble elderly man, wiping the tears and snot that dripped down his face. In all his years, never had he seen the First Elder in such a miserable state. Always the indomitable pillar that never wavered, the First Elder never showed such an extreme emotion before.
“My only son… Arthur… Died in one of the battles… The moment I saw his… Unmoving body, a pain of the likes I never experienced before enveloped my entire being. I mourned and mourned, but no matter what I did, my boy would not respond… Soon, after days upon days of cursing my miserable fate, my anguish had turned into pure unadulterated hate. I too wished to kill off the entire Awter Clan, skinning their bodies and feeding them to the dogs!”
“That was our sin. Losing ourselves. From then on, we, the Frie Clan only had one goal. Extermination. We would ignore the flags of surrender and any possible option to negotiate a peace treaty. Even when the Awter Clan had thrown in the towel and turtled into their home base, we would not relent. Lost in our emotions, we marched straight into Awter Lake, slashing and burning everything that moved.” The First Elder’s body convulsed maniacally when he recollected the final hours of the Awter Clan.
“With next to no men available to fight, the Awter Clan were like pigs awaiting slaughter on the chopping board. We killed and killed. A one-sided massacre. That was the only way to describe that night. Till this day, I can clearly remember the stench of burning flesh and the wailing cries for help. Only after a large amount of Awter Clan was eradicated, did we come to our senses.” Bringing up his two hands, the First Elder looked like he wished to chop off the butcher arms that was stained in blood.
“In our hate, we became monsters. In our hate, we became mindless beasts. In our hate, we slaughtered innocents. Many of us who woke up, tried to stop the massacre, but it was too late. Corpses of our enemies lay all around us… No, corpses of humans lay around us. W-We… Even burnt a b-b-baby! What hellish existence does that?!” Tears dripped down the elderly man’s face like a waterfall, draining the First Elder’s vigour away.
“Once we finally understood what we had become, many of us had lost our minds. Unable to bear the weight of the many lives that we claimed, some of our most valiant fighters even ended their lives right then and there. As if trying to redeem ourselves from our immorality, we desperately searched for survivors. Unfortunately, there were none to be seen.”
“…” Shin gulped down a mouthful of saliva, tightening his grip on his Master’s hands in the process.
“However, in a strange twist of fate, we discovered a safe house. In there, seven young toddlers, ranging from infancy to four years old, lay sleeping, completely secure from the carnage. At that moment, we had two options. Either we murder the children in cold blood and completely lose our humanity, or we bring them back and raise them, partially easing our guilty hearts. To the previous Clan Master and me, it was a split second decision. Naturally, we faced opposition from those that didn’t awaken from their hate, the Second Elder being one of them; but the previous Clan Master was adamant.” Explaining how the Frie Clan came to the conclusion of bringing the orphans back to Frie Mountain, the First Elder wiped the tears off his face.
“Shin… Junius, Lily, Ryner, Lia, Ella, Emma and you… Due to our selfish and abhorrent actions, we robbed you all of complete lives. Trying to sate our guilt, we created a division for you guys and had even brought in random parentless orphans off the street to mix with the division, so that we could wipe clean any doubts of your heritage. We wanted to make you included into the Frie Clan, we wanted to create a life where you could prosper. It was not because we loved you, it’s because we wanted to wash clean our guilt… But I see now, fairy tales do not exist…” With a defeated expression, the First Elder sat alone, forlorn and torn.
“No matter how much we try to hide it, the past will come back to haunt you. There are even some people in our clan still living in said past…”
“Shin, like I’d said. I do not need you to forgive us. If you want to leave us entirely, I completely understand. I was planning to send the entire orphan division to the Capital with you anyway. However, Ariel, that silly lass… Her feelings for you are genuine. She doesn’t know about the dark past that the Frie and Awter Clans share. Please don’t follow in our footsteps and blame the innocent.” Bowing down to the young teenager, the First Elder implored him to not condemn his granddaughter.
At that brief moment where he closed his eyes, the First Elder was brought into a fantasy world that he had dreamt about many times before. In it, the elderly man was holding onto a young toddler while boisterously laughing out, dining on wine and fruits. Beside him, a grown-up Ariel was in the arms of a suave and tall Shin, happily smiling at the interaction between the First Elder and their child. It was his fantasy for the future. Where Shin and Ariel were in matrimonial bliss and that all grievances had been wiped clean. However, as it turned out, the dream that he was having, the fairy tale that he believed in, might never come into fruition.