“Oh yeah! Shin, I heard you fought Linus to a draw.”
Tobias mentioned the rumour he heard to his friend who was lazily keeping pace with the other members.
“Huh?! Who said that? I lost.”
“It wasn’t a draw? Linus was going on about how there was this great black haired kid among the orphans who fought him to a draw. It was said that the higher-ups of the family were pleasantly surprised at how well the orphans were growing.”
It was not an act. Shin was genuinely shocked and shrieked. His outburst did not go unnoticed though. Everyone in the vicinity turned to Shin. Noticing the many gazes, Shin covered his mouth with both hands and looked away.
Thinking that it was just nerves, the people who turned to look at Shin gave a warm smile and turned back.
“What do you mean the higher-ups know about me? Why did it escalate to that point?”
“I think that Linus went back and sung praises about you. Saying that you were the best. That you and Ariel would serve as great training partners.”
“Is he crazy? Why would Ariel serve as a great training partner? WHY WOULD I BE A GREAT TRAINING PARTNER?”
Shin whispered in a voice in which only Tobias could hear.
‘Damn… I hope that those higher-ups won’t call me to do tedious missions.’
The Frie clan, just like any other clan in the Empire, assigned missions to their members. The more competent you are, the more likely you would get chosen to take a more laborious task. Shin’s dream was to be as useless as possible so that he could continue with his comfortable life. Getting attention from the higher-ups of the clan was something that Shin wanted to avoid at all costs.
“What else have you heard Tobias?”
While Shin was drowning in sorrow, Junius narrowed his eyes and questioned the cute little critter.
“Hmmm… Nothing much… Why do you ask that brother Junius?”
Confused, Tobias asked Junius back.
“No, it’s nothing… I really hope that it is nothing…”
Junius replied with a cryptic tone.
“You’re weird brother Junius…”
Junius did not want to bother Tobias with his worries. It was strange for the second elder to do nothing even after finding out that the orphans had a strong newcomer. Seemingly, there was the calm before the storm.
Frie Mountain. Frie Clan Main Hall. Spirit Awakening Shrine.
As the children were talking happily, the group reached their destination. An opulent building with sculptures of past Frie clan legends beckoned them. The structure was dyed in a deep scarlet red hue as countless beautiful designs depicting the various spirits graced each pillar. And at the top of the gate entrance stood a huge symbol. A red circle with a yellow flame in the middle. It was the Frie Clan Mark. There was a period of time where this mark struck fear into enemies on the battlefield as it meant no one was going to leave it without facing the threat of burning to cinders. But ever since the Frie clan went into seclusion, the mark has never been seen outside of the Frie Mountain.
Nonetheless, the symbol crafted at the gate still retained its regal stature. It was a tradition for the clan heads of each generation to impart a portion of their spiritual energy into the symbol and as multiple years flowed, the Frie Clan Mark has become a domineering legend of the Frie Mountain. All spiritual beings would marvel at its grandeur, and even stronger people such as the First Elder would bow their heads to respect the mark.
“As expected, the Frie Clan Mark is as amazing as ever.”
The First Elder remarked as he paid his respects. Everyone behind the First Elder followed suit and gave a deep bow. Shin was indignant to bow down to a door, but a slight pressure gently forced his head down.
‘To think that even a door is so amazing!’
Being part of the Orphans, Shin had little access to the resources of the Frie clan. Thus, he had not entered the main hall as much as someone of direct descent such as Ariel. Coming to the Spirit Awakening Shrine was only his fifth time in the main hall. Seeing that a mere door could force him to bow was something entirely foreign to him.
“Okay, kids follow me and do not touch anything! Even I cannot control the defensive mechanisms in the Shrine. If something happens to you, death would be the least of your worries.”
The First Elder gave a ‘gentle’ reminder before sauntering into the Shrine. The children gulped and carefully walked past the gate. Shin was even trying to trace the Elder’s footsteps.
The interior of the Shrine was much less grand compared to the outside. Other than a few small ornaments, the Shrine room looked like any other. However, there was one thing that stood out. A stone altar bearing the Frie Clan Mark. There was no gold or silver decorating it. Neither were there any elaborate designs. It was just a simple stone altar. Shin even thought it looked like a stone bench found anywhere outside. However, even without the spectacular opulence that everyone expected, it was still a behemoth object to every living being in the room.
Every child present ready for the Spirit Awakening Ceremony gasped in wonder. It was especially true for the Frie Clan descendants. There was an invisible connection linking them to the altar.
“Junius, Lily, you’re their chaperones, so you are allowed to enter the Shrine. But once the ceremony begins, you must leave the room. Understand?”
The First Elder instructed the pair.
“And you guys taking part today. When your names are called, go in front of the altar and kneel. Follow the instructions of the officiant, and you will be fine.”
The kids replied the First Elder.
“I see that you’re here early Edward…”
Just as the First Elder finished his briefing, a raspy voice bellowed from the entrance of the Shrine.
The First Elder turned to look and immediately recognised the originator of the voice. A wrinkled old man with reddish brown hair strolled towards the First Elder. Behind him were fifteen young children. One of them was someone the orphans were familiar with. The cause of Shin’s recent headache.
‘Linus! If he is behind this man, it means that…! Could he be the Second Elder?!’
Shin took a second look at the old man. If that feeble old man dressed in a vibrant scarlet red robe was who he thought he was, Shin had to be wary. This man is the orphan’s greatest adversary in the Frie Clan.
“I see that you have brought the midgets we picked up.”
“Ash! Mind your tongue!”
Ash Frie. The current Second Elder of the Frie Clan. A veteran of combat, he led the Frie Clan warriors to victory multiple times. Always believing the powers of the Frie Clan, his conservative philosophy disdained the fact that outsiders were brought in to boost the strength of the clan.
“Edward, you still side with these brats even after all these years.”
“And I will continue to do so until the end of my days, Ash.”
“Why can’t you see that them being here causes more harm than good?”
“Why are you so obstinate in your belief that they won’t bring merit to the Clan?”
“After all they are mere outsiders of the Clan. So what if they become strong? If they don’t have any blood ties, they will betray us at any moment!”
“Enough! We had this conversation multiple times. Let’s not bicker in front of the children.”
“I’m telling you, they will be the bane of our existence one day.”
The First Elder snapped and shouted at the Second Elder. It was evident that the two were not on good terms.
“You two sure know how to create a scene wherever you guys go…”
A third voice could be heard in the distance. Unlike the Second Elder’s raspy male voice, it was a gentle and feminine voice.
Everyone in the Shrine recognised that voice. Even the orphans who had little connections in the Frie Clan could recognise the voice. A middle-aged woman strolled into the Shrine while the others formed two lines to greet her. She was the highest authority of the Frie Clan.
“Senior Ash. Please do note that there is a time and place for everything. Today is the Day of Spirits. All conflicts are set aside, and it is a day of celebration. Please reflect on that.”
“Of course, Master.”
Even though the woman was much younger than the Second Elder, he was unable to disrespect her. After that fateful battle ten years ago, many of the Clan’s strongest warriors, including the previous Clan Master, perished. To stabilise the Clan, the higher-ups scrambled to find a replacement. And the name that was recommended the most was, Enfen Frie. The current Clan Master.
Although she was younger than the other candidates such as the First and Second Elder, her strength was on similar levels. Not only did she prove herself on the battlefield, but her connections outside of the Frie Clan were also massive in helping the Frie Clan recover. She was also well liked by all the members of the clan.
Initially, the Frie Clan placed her as stand-in Clan Master due to her age. However, since she proved her worth, an official ceremony crowned her to be the Seventh Generation Clan Master.
“Senior Edward too, you should not raise your voice in a sacred place such as the Shrine.”
The Clan Master was impartial and voiced her opinions to both participants of the fight.
“I apologise, Master… But it was Ash who…”
“No buts! Senior Edward, please act your age! No matter how angry you are, raising your voice in the Shrine is not acceptable!”
After lightly reprimanding the First Elder, the Clan Master walked towards the altar. Shin and the others were shocked at how the First Elder was being treated like a kid.
‘Even that old geezer has his match!’