The trip from Frie Mountain to Yakkyoku Clinic via the Bingbing Express was a brief one. Even before the orphans fully comprehended what had just happened, they had reached the borders of Chilyoja Waypoint. In fact, no one on top of the Tier 8 Spirit Beast was even able to compute what was happening due to the numerous events that had just occurred. Max was still crying over the unmoving corpse of his elder sister while Fionn was in a daze after watching Linus die before her very eyes. Ryner, who was the eldest after Lily, felt the need to step up, but even he was in grief after witnessing the death of the orphans’ ‘mom.’
The twins, Ella and Emma, were in each other’s embrace, hoping to find some warmth in these darkest of hours. Beside them, Lia, who had the most fragile of souls amongst all of them, was gazing into blank space, like a deranged person who has lost her mind. Among the female orphans, Ella, Emma and Lia were the closest to Ariel and Lily, forming some sort of a clique where they all gathered together just to gossip and bond as young teenage girls.
Now that two of their most treasured friends were gone, the three young girls had cried out until their eyes nearly bled. For Lily, many of the orphans looked up to her as the eldest after Junius, and in his absence, she had become an integral part of their lives. From waking them up every morning to becoming the sole pillar of support whenever someone from the Second Elder’s division comes to bully them. The three girls all felt an endless love for the blue-haired girl that had just brutally passed.
Ariel had also possessed a large chunk of their hearts. After she was first introduced as Shin’s training partner, the scarlet-haired girl has been growing up with the orphans and could be even considered to be part of their group. The fact that Ariel always hung out with the orphans made them wonder if she had no friends in the main bloodline.
For Ariel, it was possible that the orphans would never get to say their final goodbyes as they were banned from ever visiting the Frie Clan ever again, which meant that they would not be able to attend her funeral. Thinking about that heartbreaking fact, the three girls watched the bloodied face of Lily as they continue to weep.
Naturally, the one who was the most depressed was the person that Ariel had given up her life for. Elyse. With her hands wrapped around Shin’s arms, the young girl kept repeating two words softly to the black-haired youth that was staring into thin air.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” Elyse’s entire body trembled in fear and sorrow. It was because of her that Ariel had died. It was because of her that Shin was robbed of his lover. It was because of her that Shin was going through all this pain.
“Elyse… Please… Stop…” Although Shin knew that it was not the pitiful girl’s fault, he could not help but imagine an alternate timeline where Ariel did not save Elyse. Would he see that smile once more? The smile that could brighten up even the darkest of days?
Nonetheless, Ariel had perished, and there was nothing that he could do to reverse that fact. Blaming Elyse for something that she had no control over was something that Shin didn’t want to do, but could help. Thus, he opted to stay silent.
Fionn, who was saved by Linus, was merely sitting in one corner, tired and alone. Never in a thousand years did she expect to have a close encounter with death so early on in her young life and never did she expect that the person she once thought as a menace to the orphans’ existence to be the one that would save her at the expense of his own life.
Max and Jacob all had sombre expressions as they watched their beloved eldest sister get cleaned by the mourning Ella. Judging from their prior encounter, it became apparent to the orphans that the Frie Clan were not going to bury their fallen comrade in their holy graveyard. Therefore, the only thing that the orphans could do for Lily now was to give her a proper send-off.
“Shin… I know this is not a good time but… When you told me that… Were you serious?” Now that Bingbing had safely ferried the orphans back to Yakkyoku Clinic, Lady Seph could finally take her time to examine her disciple’s intentions.
“Yes… I can’t go on living as this weakling that only relies on others to protect those precious to me… Master, I can’t continue on the path of the healer. I need to become stronger. And to do it quickly!” Clenching his fists with a fiery will, Shin made a pledge to himself.
His heart was still fractured from witnessing Junius order the attack on the Second Elder’s abode to watching his loved one die right before his eyes. Grasping the amethyst necklace that he took from Ariel, the young man resolutely stated. The only reason why Shin has yet to fall deeper into the abyss was due to a talk that he had with Ariel, many moons ago.
[“But I believe in it! I believe that the Eternal Burning Tree is real, and I’ll prove it! Once I reach the Spirit Immortal realm, I will definitely revive my parents!”]
Back when Shin comforted Ariel after the battle with Gawil Jefferson, the young girl had once explained to the then ignorant boy that in the realms above, there existed an ethereal existence. An existence where all souls returned to.
‘I’ll carry on your dream, Ariel! I will chase Yggdrasil in your place and when I finally reach the Spirit Immortal Realm… I will find you!!!!’
“Master! I have to become stronger! Stronger than anyone else in existence! I can never reach that goal if I’m a healer!!!”
“Shin…” Watching as her disciple continued on his adamant path, the elderly woman felt something that she had never felt before. A sense of loss that preceded any grief that she had. Lady Seph had nurtured Shin with everything that she had. Knowledge, resources, and she had even personally created a hereditary opuscule for the youth. Hence, as Shin decided to leave the path that she had so carefully paved out for him, the elderly woman felt betrayed as all of her efforts had gone to waste.
“Shin… Hah… I get it… Fine…” Lady Seph shook her head in disappointment. The black-haired teenager had made up his mind to completely abandon his path, and any persuasion by her would just be a waste of her saliva. “What are your plans then?”
“T-That…” Shin’s eyes wavered in fright.
Although Shin knew that he wanted to grow stronger, as a homeless orphan that had just left the tutelage of his Master, there was nowhere that he could go. Not to mention, he had to carry with him, a whole lot of orphans that had just been kicked out from their homes. With no connections and very little money, there was not much that Shin could do to secure his place in the future.
“Shin, this is what I suggest you do… Go to the Capital and attend Imperius Academy with Ella and Emma. I’ll help the orphans find a suitable place to stay, and they can find professions that they are good at. After all, the Capital is the central hub of everything that the Himmel Empire has to offer. There’s bound to be a job for all of them.” Lady Seph suggested with a bitter smile.
“But… The Himmel Empire… I don’t really want to join their army…” Shin’s voice quivered.
After learning about the miserable fate that the Awter Clan had been put through, the young teenager had his misgivings about the Himmel Empire that supported the Frie Clan’s endeavour to massacre the Awter Clan.
“You said you wanted to grow stronger right? Then there’s no better option for you, Shin. The Imperius Academy houses some of the strongest teachers when it comes to battle techniques in the entire continent! Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that you would join the army after your graduation. Also, if you’re not going to go there, where else could you possibly go? Wander around the continent yourself?”
“T-That!” Apparently, Shin didn’t think his plan thoroughly enough. All that he wanted to do was to become stronger, yet there was no proper plan that he had to do just that.
“Hah, Shin… What do I do with you… Not to worry, I’ll put in a good word with the Headmaster for you. I do have some influence in high society after all. If I were to open my mouth, I’m sure that he would not pressurise you to join the army.”
“Master… Why?” Gritting his teeth with clenched fists, the young teenager’s face turned beet red. He had abandoned his path. He had abandoned his Master’s tutelage. He had abandoned all of his Master’s years of work on him. Yet, the blonde elderly woman still supported him no matter what. Shin knew that he had let Lady Seph down by choosing to go to another path, yet she still loved him and cared for him the same way.
“Once a Master, always a Master. From that first day that you offered me tea, I had already become bound to you. Naturally, I would prefer it if you changed your mind and continue on as a healer, but that won’t change how I would care for you, Shin…” Her facial muscles dropped as a wry smile crept up the wrinkled face of the elderly woman. Stroking the clear white skin of her disciple, Lady Seph saw the Shin that was ten-years-old, innocent as can be, that walked into her office for the first time.
In all her years, she had never formed a relationship that was quite as close as the one she had with Shin. Throughout her career, Lady Seph’s only focus was the pursuit of the peak of the healing arts. Anything that could help her in her goal, she would charge full-on ahead and anything that got in the way of that very same goal, the esteemed healer would do anything in her power to get rid off.
Only after the incident that forced her out from the Himmel Empire, did she re-evaluate her life philosophy. She found that many things were unethical to pursue and her entire life was set on a different tangent. Holing herself up in a remote corner of the Himmel Empire, the elderly healer opted to revert back to her hermit self and recluse herself from everything that the world has to offer her.
As the world continued to spin, she remained silent. The tears of agony and the scent of death meant nothing to her, as she continued on in her safe little environment. With her trusted snowy white gerbil at her side to keep her company, Lady Seph decided to pursue the peak of the healing arts in an isolated state.
And then, a specific black-haired child came into Yakkyoku Clinic.
He was small and weak. So weak that with just a wave of her finger, Lady Seph was sure that he would break under the pressure that she would mount onto him. Yet, due to a request from a long-time friend, Lady Seph was forced to offer her services to teach and bring up the young boy, as much as she didn’t want to.
In the early days of teaching Shin, all Lady Seph wanted to do was test the black-haired youth and if he failed any of her tests, she would immediately evict him, sending him far away from her isolated abode. However, it quickly became apparent that the youth that the First Elder had sent her was no normal kid. His talent for learning was unparalleled, and his Spirit was perhaps, one of the strongest in the continent. Not only could he keep up with the physical torture that his elder brother put him through, but Shin was also able to withstand the mental abuse that Lady Seph had given him by throwing endless amounts of books onto his table.
So, the elderly woman finally relented and decided to formally accept Shin into her tutelage, excited to see what heights her newly received disciple could reach; and boy did he not disappoint. Shin became the youngest healer in history, and not only did he learn ‘Heal’, but he also interpreted it to suit his Spirit, something that was unheard of from a thirteen-year-old.
However, the true reason why Lady Seph wanted to help Shin wasn’t due to his overwhelming talent or his absurd comprehension abilities, but because she honestly saw the young teen as her own child.
Chasing the peak of the healing arts since she was young came at a cost. Missing her youth, she had missed her opportunity to land a husband that could provide the familial bliss that all women could possess. Although she had no regrets over her decision, there were days where she couldn’t help but wonder, what would it be like to have a child of her own?
“Master… I’m sorry, I’ve let you down…” Shin tearfully embraced the woman that stood before him. Just as how Lady Seph saw Shin as a child of her own, the young boy too saw the woman as a parent of his own.
“Hush, my child… There’s no need to cry! I’ll always be here for you… I’ll always be here for you…” Although she was trying to stop Shin from crying, tears started to drop from her face and down to the crown of the young teen’s head.
‘That’s right… So what if he doesn’t want to be a healer? I will always be his Master!!!’ Lady Seph resolutely shouted out in her mind.
At that moment, a golden light glimmered from the depths of her spiritual body, as the bottleneck that she had been at for the past few decades had burst open. All of her knowledge condensed itself as her emotions took charge. The Iofiel Angel, appeared in the form of a phantom, smiling over the two individuals that were sorrowfully hugging each other.
‘So that’s how it is… Yes… That’s how it should be!!!’ Unbeknownst to Shin, Lady Seph’s mindset had changed entirely, and her decision would change everything that the young black-haired teen will face from now on.