“Ariel, we can’t proceed into the safehouse!!!” A pained shriek echoed through the packed streets of Frie Mountain.
Lily, as well as the other orphans, were being led by a particular scarlet-haired Amazonian girl, down from their abode to the safehouse that Ariel was supposed to go to. Regrettably, before they could even reach the halfway point, the devastating laser beam broke through the barrier and sent the tip of the mountain flying into oblivion. As a result, balls of molten lava spewed out from the top and broke down multiple roads and buildings, causing panic to ensue. Only after the Chief Librarian activated the device that dissipated the lava, did calm return onto the mountain.
“I know! Damn it, we can’t run to anywhere that I know of from this place… Not to mention, there’s no one here that could protect us…” Biting her fingernails, Ariel deliberated on the next best path for them to take. Although the chaos had been somewhat contained, there was still the issue of finding a new place to hide.
“Sister Ariel! Why haven’t you found shelter?!” At that moment, a youthful voice beckoned to the distressed group. Turning her attention backwards, Ariel noticed two bright red-haired teenaged boys brisk walking in her direction. Linus, accompanied by Leon, was trying to gather as many of their brethren as possible so that they could seek shelter together. By pure happenstance, Linus noticed that Ariel was alongside the orphans, and decided to prompt them to reach safety.
“Linus! Our safe house was destroyed… We can’t follow our original plans!!!” Not willing to beat about the bush, Ariel went straight to the point. “I mean we could find shelter in grandpa’s abode, but I’m not sure how secure it would be from everything that’s going on…”
“If you can’t find a place to hide, why not come with us? There’s ten of you so the house might be a little squeezy, but at least it would give us sufficient protection from the beast horde!!!” An invisible light bulb lit up above Linus’ head as he made that suggestion.
“Hah?! Are you planning something again?!” Ryner sharply snapped back. Over the years, he had learnt to build a sensible wariness about the members of the Second Elder’s division. Therefore, when the Second Elder’s grandson himself was trying to offer his assistance, Ryner couldn’t help but have a healthy scepticism.
“No! Really, we really want to help you guys! I know we had our differences in the past, but when Shin saved Leon back at Aldrich’s Keep, I…” Before he could finish his sentence, the young red-haired teen shook his head. “I know that our Elder… My grandfather… Hates the orphans… But I don’t feel the same way! Please trust me! I will put my life on the line to ensure your safety! Just like how Shin saved us back at the Keep…”
“…” After hearing Linus’ outpour of emotions, even the cynical Ryner felt terrible for blaming the poor youth that only wished to help them.
“I know it’s not in my place to say this… But Linus is serious about helping you guys… I know that I have mistreated you in the past, and I don’t hope for your forgiveness. So all I can do is apologise to you right now…” Leon, who had been quiet all this time, finally opened his mouth.
When he was young and immature, Leon had been doing the Second Elder’s bidding, without overthinking about it. Therefore, he had been terrorising the orphans since they were little. As he grew older, he had started to form questions about the mistreatment of the orphans. Why did the Second Elder, as well as many of his henchmen, absolutely loathe the eleven children that couldn’t even do harm to the clan? Why must he play the bully in their little lives, when they had no parents and were ostracised by many who disdained those without the pure bloodline? Numerous questions such as those emerged in his teenage mind.
Finally, the event that truly changed his outlook about the orphans was the trip to Aldrich’s Keep. When he was injured and was in immense pain, the one that came to his aid was a particular black-haired boy, that he had bullied growing up. Not only did he not seek revenge, but Shin had also done his best to alleviate the agony that Leon was in. At that moment, Leon felt heavy guilt, one of the likes he had never experienced before, weigh upon his heart.
Bowing down to the orphans that stood before him, Leon gave out a sincere apology, stunning the children altogether. For the first time in their lives, someone of the Second Elder’s division was treating them with the respect that they deserved.
“T-That…” Ryner turned absolutely speechless after watching his hated enemy on his knees. “L-Lily! W-What’s should we do?”
“…” Even though Ryner had consulted the expertise of the orphans’ ‘mother,’ even Lily was stumped for words. Intensely staring at the apologetic Leon, the young teenage girl couldn’t sense any falsehood in his demeanour. She knew that Linus had the best intentions and if not for the history between the two divisions, Lily might have accepted his proposal in a heartbeat. However, she feared that once at the safe house, the other children that the Second Elder had raised might turn against them, especially during these times of uncertainties.
“Sister Lily, I think that we should take them up on their offer!” Ariel interjected while the rest of the orphans were in deep thought. “I trust Linus! Not to mention, I’ll be there as well! I’ll protect you with all that I have!”
“Ariel… Fine, Linus… The orphans will seek shelter in your safe house.” Finally relenting to the Second Elder’s grandson’s suggestion, Lily’s words brought a jubilant smile to Linus’ face. “However, if we were to face any kind of harassment by your camp, we will immediately leave. We won’t just sit there and let you guys bully us anymore!”
“Naturally! I swear on my soul that I’ll ensure your protection. From both the Spirit Beasts and members from my division! If anything wishes to harm you, they must get past my dead body first!!!” Raising a fist pump into the air, Linus solemnly gave out that promise.
‘Finally… I get to repay Shin for what he had done for me!!!’ Linus cheered out mentally.
There were many days in which he remembered the fear and anxiety that he had when he realised that Leon had been injured for his sake. If not for the presence of Shin, Leon might have incurred a long-lasting injury that might have stifled his cultivation. Hoping to return the favour one day, Linus had always been looking out for the orphans and had even stopped multiple bullying attempts planned by children of his division. Yet, he always felt that he didn’t do enough. Now that he finally got a chance to do just that, Linus wasn’t willing to let this opportunity slip through his fingers.
“Alright then… Let’s hurry before the beasts arrive!!!”
While the children of the Frie Clan were scrambling to find shelter in the horrid environment that Frie Mountain had turned into, their Clan Master was facing a bitter struggle with the mighty Malgen Chaxrala. Using the terrain to her advantage, Enfen was able to land multiple clean strikes upon the Spirit Emperor’s body, even forcing the fully armoured Brahmin to be more wary with his approach. Unfortunately, the defences of Malgen proved too tight for the Clan Master to break through, even with the support of her Mystic Armament.
“You sure are sturdy… How many lives have you experimented on to reach that level?” Halting her desperate attacks, Enfen opted to distract the Brahmin with words, just so that she could catch her breath.
Malgen’s Chaxrala’s route to dominance was well-known to those who followed the news. Using his disciples as mere tools to sharpen his battle senses, the Spirit Emperor was perhaps the most vicious Spirit User that came from an orthodox sect. Naturally, that viciousness had paid off for him as he gained the title as the most powerful earth-elemental Spirit Emperor that was currently alive.
“I could say the same for you… How the hell could you take on so many of my attacks and not come out with a scratch? What kind of flower protection is that?!” Malgen fired back at the Clan Master who was currently encased in the phathom of the Eternal Burning Rose. Although the barrier that surrounded her had been torn apart many times, by adding a little bit of mana, Enfen could repair the damage done, with no physical damage to her original body.
If an outsider were to view the current state of the battle, they would definitely think that the Clan Master had the absolute advantage. Compared to the worn out Thargrak Golem armour that Malgen was wearing, Enfen was in the pink of health, with not even a pant in sight. Of course, the reality wasn’t that kind to the Frie Clan. Using both her zone of control abilities and her defensive protection put an enormous toll on the Clan Master’s spiritual body, as mana was being drained at an exponential rate. If the battle were to continue on for a few more minutes, there was no doubt in the Clan Master’s mind that she would burn out, giving Malgen the opportunity to land the decisive blow.
“I could do this all day, Malgen! I’ll give you one last chance to return back from whence you came. Should you do that, I promise you I won’t give chase!” Naturally, the Clan Master wasn’t going to admit that she was at the verge of imminent collapse and pulled out a bluff from her hands.
“As tempting as it may be… I have clear orders you see. Since you claim that you could do this all day, let me test what your true limits are!!!” Undeterred by the woman’s claims, Malgen heightened his spiritual energy to the max, as the earth elements danced with joy. The gravity field that he had cast upon the Clan Master had all but dissipated as he focused purely on breaching the solid defence of Enfen.
‘Hahhh, looks like I can’t delay this anymore…’ As the Brahmin bolted towards her at a speed that the human eye could never hope to follow, Enfen sighed in disdain. She could at most continue on defending for five minutes before she ran out of mana, and even then, Malgen would probably only have lost thirty per cent of his power. Once she was taken out, nothing would be stopping the diabolical Black Mask from killing his way into the mountain.
Time slowed down from Enfen’s perspective as she watched the beast horde enter the mountain from her peripheral vision. The image of Malgen with his outstretched hands in the shape of a knife came closer and closer with every passing millisecond.
‘As much as I don’t want to do this… I have to…’ Thinking of the trump card that she had forcibly sealed from her memory, Enfen’s body trembled in trepidation. When she had first learnt the ability, she had never expected it to become such a destructive one. Just remembering the collateral damage that it caused sent shivers down her spine. The Clan Master had even sworn to never use that calamitous spiritual ability ever again. However, drastic times calls for drastic measures. ‘I’ll bet everything on this final attack!!!’
Once she used that ability, there was no going back. Her mana reserves would hit zero, and she would most likely be out of commision for a good few days. Nonetheless, it was worth the try.
“All that is created by man must return to ashes.” Cupping her hands together, the Eternal Burning Rose made its appearance once more, as Enfen started to chant her final mantra.
“Drawn to the first flame, man harnessed its power for good. Drawn to the second flame, man harnessed its power for themselves. Drawn to the third flame, man harnessed its power for evil.” Closing her eyes, akin to that of a nun praying to god in a holy chapel, the Clan Master gathered all of her remaining mana into the Eternal Burning Rose in her hands. All of a sudden, an immense light, more dazzling than that of the brightest star in the night sky, was emitted from the midst of the middle-aged woman’s body.
“Fire for good, fire for evil. That was the mantra of men. Fire for all, fire for none. That was the song for wars.” All moisture in the atmosphere surrounding her disappeared as the heat being released from the Clan Master exceeded that of the lava that was being spewed from Frie Mountain. The grass on the floor began to wither and burn as the air became drier and drier. Finally noticing that something was very wrong, Malgen halted his approach and widened his eyes in horror.
Below him, the vines that were created by Enfen had disappeared into nothingness. Above him, the crimson sky that halted his ascent had dissipated like an evening fog. The fire elements all celebrated in harmony as the Eternal Burning Rose in Enfen’s hands started to bloom with a marvellous splendour as if foreshadowing the return of a long-awaited emperor.
Over ten thousand Spirit Beasts from the horde had made it into the mountain, leaving the twenty thousand behind with the elite group assembled by Bates to deal with them. However, the moment the Instructor, Ines and the other Frie Clan members saw what their Clan Master was trying to do, they had all bolted far away, like frightened rats scurrying their way into the sewers. Evidently, they knew what would happen if they had stayed on for any longer.
“O’ beautiful flower of mine! Bloom for me would you? Let my enemy face your wrathful vengeance! *The Final Petal!!!*” Screeching out at the top of her lungs, the Clan Master used her most powerful ability ever.
The Eternal Burning Rose in Enfen’s hands started to expand rapidly, bringing all forms of fire elements into it at the same time. Once it had reached a size of over ten metres, it rapidly contracted, forming a singular piece of glowing light, resembling that of a rose petal. At that moment, time seemed to have stopped for anyone viewing the fascinating ability. Bates and Vellan, who had ended their fight just so that they could get out of range, dropped their jaws at how pretty the Clan Master looked with the single petal in her hands. The Instructor and Ines were far away, but they could clearly sense the terror that the petal contained within its miniature size.
And as for the one closest to the Clan Master, Malgen, everything in his mind went blank. He felt a terror that he had thought he had long lost, creep up against his consciousness. The fear of death, a fear that he never thought he would feel again, pressed sharply upon the Brahmin’s mind.
There was no sound. All that remained was the sight of the glowing petal dropping from the hands of the Clan Master, and onto the dried up floor below.
A discharge of white, scorching energy destroyed half of the battlefield and instantly incinerated half of the twenty thousand Spirit Beasts outside of the mountain. Those that managed to escape the area of effect on time, such as the Instructor and Ines, trembled in fear as they witnessed the full might of their Clan Master once again. Bates and Vellan, who were fortunate enough to just reach the edge of the impact area, had their hearts beating at over two hundred beats per minute, as they realised that they had just narrowly escaped death.
“Enfen?!” The explosion that the Clan Master had created could be felt by the numerous souls living on Frie Mountain. The Shrine Maiden, who was the most familiar with her friend’s abilities, tried her best to sit up from her resting position, hoping to catch a glimpse of the extent of the Clan Master’s discharge of energy.
In the midst of the reddened skies, a mushroom cloud, resembling that of a rose in full bloom, towered over the mountain, as the blast waves made its way towards the clansmen, dropping many of them to their bottoms.
“She used the Final Petal?! Shit! I need to go to her!” The Shrine Maiden exclaimed out. Only she knew the full toll that the Final Petal would cause upon the Clan Master’s body. Although she would be protected by the Mystic Armament that she was wearing, there was no doubt in the Shrine Maiden’s mind that Enfen would be severely weakened.
“You stay put! I’m on my way!” However, before she could even hope to lift herself up, a familiar aged voice, rung in her ears, as a flash of red light flew right by her. Instantly recognising who that was, a wave of assurance eased the anxious heart of the white-robed woman as a wry smile crept up her face.
“Geez, what took you so long?!”
The aftermath of the explosion caused by the Final Petal was utterly mortifying. Ten thousand Spirit Beasts dead and many others injured as a wall of fire barred the path to the mountain. For the fates of those caught in the explosion? No one really knew.
‘Urrrgh… I knew this would happen…’ Opening up her dazed eyes, Enfen found herself lying on the scorching hot floor, lacking even the slightest bit of energy to speak. All of her mana had been drained from her body, and the only thing that was keeping her from burning alongside the ground that surrounded her was the Mystic Armament that she wore into battle.
“Hahaha… Hahahaha… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!” While she was busy collecting her thoughts, a maddened laugh bellowed through the sulphurous smoke that polluted the air, forcing the Clan Master to divert her attention from herself to the person who was laughing.
“Excellent! Ex-ce-llent! EXCELLENT, ENFEN FRIE!!! YOU HAVE GAINED MY HUMBLEST OF RESPECTS!!!” Malgen passionately exclaimed out.
The Thargrak Golem armour that protected him had turned obsidian, with a sinister gas flowing out from the now broken mask of his. However, even with the Allfather’s added protection, about eighty per cent of his amour had been broken down into pieces. His mouth was filled with blood as many of his pristine white teeth had been knocked out. Even the infamous mask of a Brahmin, which was said to be harder than diamonds, had been half destroyed.
‘Even with that, he’s still able to stand?!’ Enfen shouted out in her mind. Unfortunately, she lacked the energy to even move a muscle.
“I see that it was an all-or-nothing attack, leader of the Frie Clan, and what a banger it was!!! I haven’t felt this thrilled in ages!!! Haha, as thanks, the least I could do is give you a fitting end. Future bards will sing of your valiant attempt to save your clan, even till your last breath!”
“No, they’ll sing of how she killed off an enemy and how she lived!” Before Malgen could make the final move, a flaming whip that spat out embers lashed out at the damaged Brahmin, forcing him to make immediate evasive actions.
‘The Kyoli Ember Whip?! Senior Edward?!’ As Enfen thought that, an elderly man dropped down from the skies and landed right in front of the exhausted middle-aged woman.
“Enfen… No, Clan Master… You’ve done enough. Let me take over!”