“Shin… Instead of burying the lass in that unfamiliar land, why not bury her urn right here in this garden?” While Shin was preparing to move the corpse of Lily into the building, Lady Seph suddenly interjected with an idea of her own.
“What do you mean?”
“You see… If we register Lily’s death into the town’s cemetery, it will take a drastically long time for the application to process, and by then, the beautiful corpse of Lily’s might have begun to decay. Not to mention, since she’s not a resident of the town, it might prove to be a problem when finding a slot in the cemetery.” Lady Seph started to reason with the youth about the issues that might occur if they wished to bury Lily in the local cemetery.
“T-Then! Lady Seph! W-What should we do?!” A feminine resonant voice stuttered out, drawing the attention of everyone surrounding her. Lia, who was an introvert at heart, decisively asked the blonde beauty. Her bonds with Lily were the closest, and ever since they came to Yakkyoku Clinic from Frie Mountain, Lia had been tending to her deceased friend’s corpse, making sure that no harm could ever happen to it.
“Like I said. I think that we should bury her here. Since I own this patch of land, I can do whatever I want on it. Not to mention, the gorgeous flowers here would be able to keep her company while we’re away.” Smiling wryly at the frantic young girl, Lady Seph assured her that Lily would be in good company.
“I see… Yeah, I think Sister Lily would love that…” Lia’s eyes turned misty as she turned her head towards the unmoving corpse of her precious elder sister. Like her name suggested, the young maiden wasn’t one to shy away from a beautiful flower garden. In fact, on one of her dates with Junius, Lily had actively searched for a Lily Flower so that she could impress her partner with her beauty.
“Would it really be suitable to bury Lily here?” Ryner frowned as he addressed Lady Seph’s suggestion. Although it sounded novel, was Yakkyoku Clinic a secure enough location as compared to the graveyard?
“Not to worry. Even when I’m gone, Mayor Nadeo had invested a large amount of money into renovating this place to become the medical hub of the town. With so many resources being poured into the clinic, there’s no way that they would protect the lass’ grave.” Flashing a beautiful smile, Lady Seph assured Ryner.
“If that’s the case…” Ryner stroked his hairless chin as he thought intensely about the issue. Having Lily buried in Yakkyoku Clinic wasn’t a bad thing. At the very least, the orphans could visit her whenever they wanted to. All around him, the other orphans gestures were hinting the same thing.
“So it’s settled! I’ll help you guys do the funeral rites, and your precious Instructor here could do her cremation.”
“Wait!!! How could we let a member of the Frie Clan burn the body of Lily?! They were the ones that killed off our clan!!!” Ryner retorted at the top of his lungs. His eyes turned bloodshot as he turned his attention to the two Frie Clan members that were standing at the foot of the stairs.
“…” The Shrine Maiden narrowed her eyes in disbelief while keeping mum the entire time. She could hardly believe her ears. Yes, the Frie Clan had annihilated the Awter Clan and robbed the orphans of complete families, but didn’t they spend resources to raise the orphan division? The First Elder and many of the ‘good guys’ in the clan all tried their hardest to create a conducive environment for the orphaned children that they had found.
Building their own little sanctuary in the corner of the First Elder’s abode. Sending talented Spirit Users to protect and teach the orphans. Giving them as many resources as they possibly could. Was all of that forgotten by the orphans after just one day? Sensing the chilling stare of the Shrine Maiden, Ryner stopped dead in his tracks as his mouth ceased to move. Even though the white-robed woman was not releasing any mana or spiritual pressure, the young teenager still felt like his heart was being tightened as a primal fear crept up his body.
“Please! I beg you!” However, before anyone could say a single word, the Instructor fell flat on his knees. With a loud thud, the burly man banged his head straight onto the concrete floor, creating a small crater as a result. The ground shook lightly as the orphans slowly backed away from the Instructor, as blood started to drip out from the muscular man’s forehead.
“The Frie Clan was wrong, and I do not hope that you forgive us. The sins that we had committed fifteen years ago have continued to haunt us ever since. We have tried our best to make amends, but I know that it would never be enough. Although I can’t ask for you to forgive us, however, could you listen to my selfish request?”
“…” An unsettling silence descended upon the garden once the Instructor blurted out those words. In the entirety of their young lives, they had never seen their exalted Instructor so desperate before. The Instructor had always been a steady rock, never faltering even in the toughest of situations. Hence, when he started to kowtow so hard until his head started bleeding, the orphans didn’t know how to react.
“Junius, Lily, Ryner, Lia, Shin, Ella, Emma, Max, Elyse, Fionn, Jacob. The eleven of you, I have been raising you since you all didn’t have teeth! The entire time, I have done my best to nurture you to become the best that you could be! Initially, when I was first assigned the task of looking over you, I was hesitant. After all, I had participated in the war against that Awter Clan and might have slain some of your parents in the process. Nonetheless, I still tried to take on the daunting task.” His arms dropping on the floor with his palms open and turned towards the sky, the Instructor was in complete submission.
“I had no children. So I didn’t know the next thing about child-rearing. When you cried, I didn’t know if you needed food or wanted someone to coddle you. However, after many days of trial and error, and with help from Elizabeth, the Headmistress, I somehow managed to pull through. I raised you all, even though I was far from capable. To me, who had no children of my own, you were my children. Every single one of you. Yet, are you really going to deny me the chance to see of my very own daughter?” At this point, the Instructor could no longer bear it. Beautiful beads of tears dripped down from his face and landed squarely upon the floor.
“T-That!” Ryner got tongue-tied after being presented with such a question. He had seen how much the Instructor cared for the orphans and how much time he invested to their well-being.
Over the years, the only people who actually gave a damn about the orphans division in the Frie Clan could be counted with the fingers of two hands. The rest would either openly ostracise them or avoid them like the plague. As the Ryner’s mind started to recollect the many instances where the Instructor had openly defended them, his eyes began to show traces of guilt for his earlier explosive attitude.
“I’m not asking you as a member of the Frie Clan, but as someone who raised you all these years. Let me give Lily a proper send-off, please!!!” With a desperate cry, the Instructor’s head remained firmly attached to the floor.
“…” Unable to find the words, Ryner gaped his shock as his mouth hung wide open.
Watching from the side, Shin rubbed the furrowed brows of his as he saw a little bit of himself in the begging Instructor. He too wanted to give Ariel a final send-off, but due to the circumstances surrounding their departure, that option was impossible. If the orphans did not allow the Instructor to help cremate Lily’s body, wouldn’t they be as deplorable as the Frie Clan that banned them from saying their final farewells to Ariel and Linus?
“Brother Ryner… We should just let him do it.” Standing up from his chair, Shin tapped Ryner’s shoulder and suggested that they allow the Instructor to be part of the funeral proceedings. “He did raise us, after all…”
“Yeah, Brother Ryner. As much as I don’t like the fact that a member of the Frie Clan would be burning Lily’s body, the Instructor is not just another Frie Clan member…” Tugging on the stunned youth’s sleeves, Lia tried to convince Ryner as well.
“You guys… Urgh… I don’t know anymore!” Waving his hands, Ryner turned the other direction while giving his consent. Although he was currently the eldest among all the orphans, he held much less influence as compared to Junius or Lily.
“Thank you! Thank you!!!” A joyful voice broke out from the Instructor’s mouth.
“Instructor… In exchange, I want you to tell us as much as you can about how the Awter Clan perished. From your perspective. I know the things that the Black Masks had told me, and I know the things that the First Elder had told me. But I haven’t heard from the regular members of the Frie Clan. Were things really that far gone? Was there really a need to kill off every single member of the Awter Clan? I want to know everything!” However, Shin was not planning to let the Instructor do anything for free. He proposed an exchange that could help him better comprehend the scale of the war fifteen years ago. “Senior Shrine Maiden, I also want to hear your side of the story.”
Only by listening to all sides of the story, would Shin gain a better grasp of the war that ended the Awter Clan. He was not one to blindly believe what one side was telling him, and ignore the other side’s perspective entirely.
“You’re right… The least we could do is give you guys a proper explanation…” The Shrine Maiden nodded her head while the Instructor’s eyes were fixated on watching the unmoving Lily. In his heart, the Instructor never considered the fact that one of his students would pass on before him. Adding to the fact that he spent so much time and care to nurture Junius and Lily to become powerful Spirit Users, he couldn’t believe that the young maiden was truly gone forever.
“Yeah… We should tell you everything…” Sighing deeply, the Instructor wore a defeated expression as he got to his feet. “Where to begin?”
As dusk quickly approached on the bustling waypoint, Shin and the other orphans stayed glued to their seats as the Instructor and the Shrine Maiden recounted every single detail about the ordeal that had befallen the Frie and Awter Clan. Being bitter rivals since day one, they could be considered as exact opposites. The Frie Clan was a well-established clan with backings from both the government and the locals in the area. With their powerful Spirit Users, they had been useful wardens in the west as they protected any Spirit Beasts that might have been let loose from the Uncharted Wilderness. Furthermore, they had even sent many men to the armies of the Himmel Empire, giving them a rather high standing in society.
The Awter Clan, on the other hand, was newly established by Longyu Yuan after he was kicked out by the Longyu Clan. Their philosophy was to grow their influence by absorbing in all of the strained water elemental Spirit Users littered all about the Himmel Empire, and give them a home.
Generation after generation passed and the two clans remained hostile on the surface, careful not to fire the first shot that would lead to total war. Unfortunately, the monetary lure of the Aether Crystal mines was too great. Unable to reach a settlement, the two clans clashed in a war that would kill thousands.
As the Instructor recollected the numerous Awter Clan bodies that he had personally obliterated, his entire being shook with an incredible fear.
“The warrior that killed your family, the madman that slaughtered the Awter Clan… That wasn’t me!!! I want to say that, but unfortunately, I did indeed kill those innocents. I too had gone mad, in my quest for vengeance. Everyone who participated in that war lost someone precious to them. For me, it was my betrothed…” The Instructor’s head hung downwards as he gazed on the floor.
For the longest time, the orphans had wondered why the Instructor was not married even though he was mighty Spirit Lord. Typically, once a Spirit User grows to display significant strength, they would be urged to leave behind high-calibre offsprings, to ensure that the future of their Clan remains bright. However, the burly man didn’t even have the slightest of intentions of settling down.
“Christina was my childhood sweetheart… We grew up together… Played together… Trained together… Soon, we swore our futures together… Yet, she perished… In a place where I could never hope to reach!”
“Instructor…” Shin unconsciously mouthed out. The Awter Clan had perished, but that didn’t mean that the Frie Clan had emerged victoriously. Deaths of many in the family had proved too much for the Frie Clan to bear.
“Christina died in the hands of the Awter Clan, and innocents of the Awter Clan died had perished in mine. As much as I would want to call it a fair exchange, all I felt after everything was done, was emptiness. There was nothing good about that war at all! Not one thing! So what if we gained the Aether Crystal mine?! We lost way too much! Also…” The Instructor’s gaze promptly landed on Shin, as he let out a deep sigh. “We lost Ariel and many of our future talents…”
“…” A chilling silence descended upon the area as everyone wore sombre expressions. The loss of Ariel and the others was something that both the orphans and the Frie Clan felt. Shin especially.
“Is there anything else that you want to know?” Finishing the last bit of his tale, the Instructor watched as the sun began to set as the sky turned orange, in preparation of dusk.
“No… Thank you, Instructor…” Shin weakly replied.
While the orphans were busy listening on the story, Lady Seph had long made preparations to cremate Lily’s body. Her gravestone was marked with golden letters that were infused with Lady Seph’s Rank 80 Spirit Venerate mana, and a classic silver urn was prepared. Wax candles were lit with a marked area for Lily’s grave to be, adequately dug out.
“Shin, it’s time…” Lady Seph’s solemn voice called out her disciple. It was best that they performed the funeral rites before night had fallen. “Fall into place. If you want to say your final goodbyes before we cremate her body, do it soon.”
The orphans all stood up from their seats and walked emotionally, towards the corpse of their eldest sister. To the orphans, Lily was more than just family, she was the glue that stuck all of them together. Her nagging antics, although annoying at times, would be sorely missed once they left the town. The females of the orphans all sobbed uncontrollably as they took turns to say their final farewell. Max, who was the boy that Lily had gave her life for, had lost all forms of tears as his eyes dried up.
“Sister Lily… Goodbye.” Gently stroking her porcelain clear face, Max bit down on his lip and quickly turned away, unable to bear the pain in his heart.
“Sister Lily… I’m sorry you had to go this way…” When it was Shin’s turn, all he did was apologise. If he managed to somehow stop Junius and Vellan from leaving the safehouse that he was being kept up, perhaps Lily, Ariel and Linus would still be alive and kicking. “When I find Junius, I will make sure that he answers to your grave!!!”
The one who loved Junius the most, the one who cried the most when Junius went missing, was Lily. Yet, Junius was the one who had fallen from grace and ordered the attack on the Second Elder’s abode, ending three innocent lives.
Once everyone was done, the Instructor summoned out a ball of fire, something that was easy for a fire elemental Spirit Lord of his calibre, and gently lit the coffin that Lily was in, ablaze. Lady Seph sent a little bit of her holy mana to guide the flames, turning it from an orangey red that was synonymous with the Frie Clan to a pale blue sacred fire.
Watching as their beloved family member turns to ashes, the orphans all knelt to pay their final respects.