By the time Shin returned to the mountain, the Frie Clan had erupted into a state of turmoil. Lou Frie had stormed into the initially tranquil and pristine medical facility carrying three injured youths. Two of them had light bruises and a case of mana depletion. Although it was not life-threatening, they still required medical attention. However, what shocked the various staff at the time was the condition of the boy that Lou had carried gently over.
With a massive cut at the centre of his chest, his entire torso was drenched scarlet red by the amount of blood he had lost. About to shake hands with the angel of death, if Junius did not get medical help immediately, he would breathe his last. Threatening to topple the medical facility, Lou Frie summoned all the top healers of the clan to heal his beloved pupil.
Once the operation to heal Junius had begun, Lou reported straight to the First Elder and sought that actions be taken against the Second Elder. Ines had also returned and described her encounter with Bates to the First Elder. Everything was recounted without missing a single detail. From how Bates barred her path into the forest and to how he claimed that he would arrest the assassins for interrogation.
Enraged, the First Elder brought the top members of his faction and barged straight into the Second Elder’s abode, demanding for Bates to hand over the assassins.
The clash of the two largest divisions woke up the slumbering Frie Clan. After the war ended ten years ago, the clan had entered into an extended period of stasis. Occasionally, there were small movements that might have garnered a minute amount of attention but otherwise, the following years after the battle was rather peaceful as the clan focused on rebuilding.
Members that have gone into closed seclusion broke their cultivation early to witness the historical conflict, and every single soul living on Frie Mountain were eagerly watching the clash unfold.
The First Elder flew straight into the Second Elder’s abode with his Kyoli Fire Whip Spirit in hand. Various Spirits were also summoned by his followers as they backed the old man in his advance towards the Second Elder.
“Ash… Hand them over!”
The First Elder lashed out at the decrepit old man standing solitary in his courtyard. The lonesome man stood unwaveringly facing the dozens of experts who had intruded into his territory. From his eyes, a sombre sadness could be felt. It was as if the object he loved most had finally abandoned him.
Before the Second Elder could mouth a reply, numerous amounts of lights flew straight towards the old man and floated in the space in front of him. The Second Elder’s loyal subordinates had finally arrived. All of them had resolute expressions. If the First Elder is determined to do battle, they will be happy to comply.
“What is the meaning of this, Edward? Do you truly wish to tear apart the Frie Clan?!”
The Second Elder hollered out. When he moved against Shin, he thought that even if the boy died, the First Elder would hold back his rage. After all, no matter how much the two of them hated each other, they all shared the same blood. Never in his wildest dreams would he have expected the First Elder to trigger a full-on retaliation and send his entire force straight to his doorstep. It’s as if he valued that despicable outsider more than the peace of the Frie Clan.
“It’s you who wishes to tear the clan apart! Hand over the assassins that were sent to attack the juniors of my division!”
The First Elder cannot directly accuse the Second Elder of ordering the assassination attempt on Shin. There is just no substantial evidence of him doing so. However, if the First Elder can get his hands on the assassins, he will be able to make them squeal and thus gaining the evidence required to convict the Second Elder.
“I believe that will not be possible…”
A burly one-armed man with unkempt hair ambled out of the Second Elder’s house. Although dishevelled, through his noble demeanour, one can see that he is not a regular ruffian.
Ines clenched her fists in anger the moment the man showed up. He was the cause of her earlier suffering. By shooting a flame pillar at her and blocking her way, he had nearly cost the lives of the orphans.
“Bates… What do you mean you can’t hand over the assassins? Are you saying that you are going to shelter them?!”
The First Elder erupted. If Bates is going to protect the assailants, it is as good as admitting that the Second Elder had ordered the strike on Shin.
“Of course not, I would not dare to shelter such scum. It is just that during the investigation, the poor little souls were unable to take my ‘questioning’ and passed away. Rest assured, before they left the living world, I found out who sent them to attack the juniors from your division.”
“Huh?! You killed them?!?!”
The Instructor, wielding his massive club, exclaimed. Of course, none of those who came with the First Elder would believe such a story. By claiming that the assassins had died, they could spin whatever story they want to deflect suspicion from their door. After all, once the assassins had died, there was no way to confirm the truth.
“It was an unfortunate mistake… I was so angry that someone had ordered an assassination attempt on juniors of our clan that in a fit of rage, I snapped all of their heads. I am ashamed of doing something so unprofessional…”
Trying to justify the reason that he killed the assassins, Bates put on his sorrowful expression while addressing the multiple experts levitating in the sky.
“But before they died, they did manage to give a name. They said that they were hired by the Black Masks to kill any juniors of the Frie Clan!”
Bates pinned all the blame on an organisation called the Black Masks. The Black Masks are a criminal institution that had gained prominence in the Himmel Empire in recent years. As their name suggests, members of the Black Masks concealed their faces with face masks. No one knew where they came from or who their leader was. But one thing’s for sure, the Black Masks name is synonymous with crime.
From assassinations to human trafficking. Some of the Black Masks even resort to banditry to get what they want. Furthermore, unlike traditional crime syndicates, the Black Masks go out of their way to upset the establishment. It’s as if chaos is their calling. With family clans being the fundamental building blocks of the Himmel Empire, the Black Masks were known for sending forces to slowly chip away the power of sects such as the Frie Clan.
Thus, Bates theory that the Black Masks sent assassins to kill Shin is somewhat reasonable. But of course, everyone present knew that Bates is lying. The Second Elder had openly shown animosity towards Shin and the second the youth left the clan for a mission, he was attacked. Additionally, Bates was in the forest preventing Ines from saving Shin. All the clues pointed straight at the Second Elder, but with no hard evidence, even the First Elder cannot outright say that his fellow High Elder had sent someone to kill a little junior.
“If that’s the case, why did you prevent me from saving Shin in the forest, Bates?!”
Ines was quick to point out the loophole in Bates’ explanation. Why would one of the Second Elder’s most influential aide stop Ines from saving Ariel and the orphans from a possible assassination attempt?
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Ines… I saw you rushing towards the forest as if you were trying to destroy it. I assumed that you were about to eradicate a precious asset of the clan and tried to prevent you from burning down the forest. Don’t you remember?”
“Hmph! Such sophistry!”
Only Bates and Ines knew what went down in the forest. Hence, it was one person’s word against another. Ines claimed that Bates wanted to protect the assassins while Bates alleged that Ines tried to burn down the forest. With no other witness to prove otherwise, the argument had reached a dead end.
“Fine! Let’s assume that everything you have said is true!”
At this moment, the First Elder spoke up to Bates’ comments.
“Since you say that you don’t have a guilty conscience, let us search your abode for the dead bodies of the assassins. That way, we can determine if you are telling the truth.”
The First Elder proposed to search the Second Elder’s abode for the bodies of the fallen assassins. The Second Elder had sent Spirit Apostles from his own faction for the assassination attempt. Hence, there was no way he would have killed them. With that in mind, the First Elder theorised that the assassins must be alive and hidden somewhere inside of the Second Elder’s home.
“You wish to search my home?”
The Second Elder narrowed his eyes. It was impossible for the First Elder to find any corpses as the Spirit Apostles have been moved to a secure location. Moreover, letting his nemesis ransack his house is a great insult to his prestige.
“Hmph! Do you honestly think that the Elder’s home is something you can ravage?!”
One of the Second Elder’s underlings shouted in contempt.
“So Ash, would you let us in or not?”
Ignoring the audacious junior, the First Elder doubled down on his affirmation.
“If you want to start a war Edward, there’s no need to be indirect… I will settle it with you right now!!!”
A torrent of spiritual energy spewed out of the Second Elder as he summoned his Spirit. Flames spewed forwards searing everything in its path. Two seconds later, a shadowy, illusory figure manifested itself behind the decrepit old man.
A deafening blast reverberated through the courtyard at the same time the image appeared. Those whose cultivation levels were subpar had no choice but to cover their ears in agony. But even then, red liquids started to drip out from their auditory canal. The rest who were able to maintain their sanity began to see the figure behind the Second Elder slowly becoming more explicit.
Standing over five meters tall, a gigantic cat-like creature stared down the intruders. Instead of regular claws, the feline possesses gleaming green crystals for nails. Its mane breathed an emerald green fire that mesmerised anyone who lay sights on it. Legend has it that the beast that the First Elder and his subordinates were witnessing had once roamed the battlefields unhindered and without equal. Mauling and burning its enemies alive, the opposition would retreat in fear once they caught the eye of this magnificent beast charging their way.
The Second Elder has summoned his Spirit, the Emerald Lion. Being a pure attack Spirit, its combat level is the highest in the Frie Clan.
“I see… So it had come to this…”
Sighing in regret, the First Elder steeled his heart to face his age-old adversary. Although he did not wish to stir up an internal conflict in the already weakened Frie Clan, this time the Second Elder had pushed his bottom line.
But the conflict would not come to pass. An unyielding, womanly voice bellowed from across the mountain. A middle-aged lady wearing an imperial gold robe sauntered forward into the courtyard of the Second Elder. In that instant, many of the clan members bent their heads involuntarily. A heavy invisible spiritual pressure was pressed down onto their souls the moment the woman came into view.
The two High Elders, who were barely able to resist the pressure, had a close look at the newcomer. In her hands, the Clan Master held an ornate golden token that had been branded with the Frie Clan Mark. A red aura spilt out from the badge and filled the surroundings.
“The Proof of the Sovereign…”
The Second Elder begrudgingly exclaimed. Over the years, the Frie Clan had gained a diverse amount of assets. Some have remained, some have been lost. However, two objects had stayed the same since the founding of the clan. One is Frie Mountain. The ancestors of the Frie Clan had established the clan in one of the most spiritually abundant locations in the Himmel Empire, and their descendants have never abandoned the place. And the other object is the Proof of the Sovereign.
Passed down to each generation, only the Clan Master was able to use its power. Whoever wields the Proof of the Sovereign has absolute authority in the clan. If he or she wishes to, the owner of the token can even force anyone who shares the blood of the Frie Clan to kneel. And right now, the current Clan Master, Enfen Frie, is doing just that.
Every single living being in the courtyard was unable to control their legs as they slowly bent down into a kneeling position. Only the two High Elders were able to resist the massive pressure being dealt onto them.
“Are the both of you trying to destroy the clan?!”
Infuriated, Enfen lashed out at the two old men. This is the first time she had to use the Proof of the Sovereign since assuming the position of Clan Master. Since it was authoritarian in nature, she despised using the token that was passed down by her ancestors. But desperate times calls for extreme measures.
“Clan Master, I…”
The First Elder was about to explain the situation but was cut off by the golden-robed woman.
“Enough! I know everything that has happened here! I trusted that no matter how bad your disputes were, you would put the clan’s interests above everything else. But it seems that I was wrong. You were about to crush the clan from the inside. How are you able to justify that?! Aren’t the two of you ashamed to face your dead kin that sacrificed their lives for the continuity of our clan?!”
The Clan Master is genuinely enraged. What was the war that they fought ten years earlier for? It was so that the Frie Clan can continue to prosper and survive. Numerous lives were lost in that battle, and now the two High Elders were currently trying to instigate another conflict that might end the clan once and for all.
Not only the two elders, even their subordinates felt abashed at the Clan Master’s words. Instead of striving to rebuild the clan, they were about to destroy it.
“Members of the Frie Clan, hear my order!”
Seeing that the two sides had calmed down, the Clan Master raised the golden token into the air. With her voice amplified so that the entire mountain will be able to hear her, Enfen Frie laid down her decree.
“Effective immediately, the two High Elder’s are stripped of their Elder status for ten years. They are barred from ever crossing each other’s territories, and all future conflicts will result in an instantaneous exile out of Frie Mountain!”
The Clan Master’s decree echoed through the entirety of the clan. Every breathing soul living in Frie Mountain were able to hear that familiar voice. The Clan Master has always been forgiving to the mistakes of her people, but when there is a need to, she will always mete out punishments. And stripping the two High Elders of their position is the harshest punishment she had ever given.
The Second Elder gnashed his teeth while releasing his Spirit. The Emerald Lion that had intimidated the surroundings disappeared. Even the First Elder reluctantly released his Spirit. Although he was just reacting to the Second Elder’s actions, bringing his troops over and threatening to start a battle that might destroy the Frie Clan was rather extreme.
“This matter is settled! All of you, release your Spirits and return to your lodgings!”
The Clan Master raised the Proof of the Sovereign once more and addressed the rest of those present.
“Yes, Clan Master!”
Every single soul gathered in the courtyard replied in unison. Whether they were Spirit Lords, Spirit Kings or Spirit Emperors, the Clan Master’s orders were absolute. Bolts of red lights flew out of the Second Elder’s home until eventually, only three figures remained.
The Clan Master stared down the two High Elders. Generation-wise, she was their junior. But regarding authority, she trumps her seniors. When she was still a sheltered, ignorant girl, these two goliaths had already established themselves in the clan. Back then, although they weren’t the best of friends, their relationship was nowhere as toxic as it is now. And currently, they have passed the point of no return.
All because of a single black-haired boy.
“Senior Edward… I need a word with you.”
Gesturing towards the First Elder, the Clan Master turned her back sluggishly. Internal strifes are the worst nightmare of any leader of a family clan. Historically speaking, the majority of clan collapses were due to a large scale internal conflict. With the two most significant divisions in the clan at the brink of an all-out war, she had to attempt to heal the wounds. Of course, it was delaying the inevitable, but at least it gave her time to contemplate on how to properly fix the problem that the Frie Clan had.
The First Elder and Clan Master levitated away from the Second Elder’s abode leaving behind a sole disgruntled old man. A vicious hatred could be felt emitting out of the feeble, elderly body. From the Clan Master’s actions, it is evident that she favoured the First Elder over him. And once the two factions truly began to battle, it won’t take a genius to determine which side she will be on.
Clenching his fists, the Second Elder turned his body in a fit of rage and stormed into his room.
Frie Mountain. Main Hall. Liuto Medical Facility.
Dusk arrived at Frie Mountain. The bright blue sky had turned crimson red as the sun disappeared into the horizon.
Chimes of a bell reverberated through the Main Hall, indicating to all that night was approaching. Workers who had been exerting themselves all day, departed from their jobs to return home and be with family. However, in a clean, white building, there were no signs of movement slowing down.
The Liuto Medical Facility is one of the only places in the Frie Clan that never closes. Established by the previous Clan Master, the construction had been placed to treat any sick and injured. And currently, the facility had an extremely damaged patient.
Lying motionless on the sickbed, Junius was covered with countless amounts of bandages. When he was first brought into the facility, the youth had lost over a third of his total blood count. With the help of the best healers of the clan and a healthy amount of fresh blood vials, Junius’ condition had started to stabilise. Thankfully, the Instructor wasted no time in bringing the wounded boy back. If he were a few minutes later, Junius might have been on his way to the netherworld.
At present, Junius is still in a comatose state. Sitting next to his bed in the visitor’s chair is a pale blue haired girl. Tightly gripping his hand, beads of water dripped down her face. When Lily heard the news of Junius’ hospitalisation, she stopped everything she was doing and hurried down to the medical facility to be with the youth.
Seeing the state of Junius, she had nearly fainted in fear and shock. Her premonition had come true. Only through the Instructor and various healers assuring her that Junius was going to be alright did she calm down. Nevertheless, ever since entering the ward, she showed no intention of leaving Junius’ side.
Standing in one corner of the room, a black-haired boy watched over the duo in self-reproach. The only reason why Junius is lying frozen on the bed is due to him. If Junius did not volunteer to lead Shin’s team, the person that might have been hospitalised would be him.
Staring into the room from the outside, two figures observed the interactions of those in the place. The grief and sadness in the little girl’s eyes. The hate and powerlessness of the black-haired boy.
“Ha… Is it a mistake?”
The old man, who seemed indomitable before, sighed as he looked like he aged a few decades after seeing the bedridden youth.
“No, it’s not your fault… If my father were here, he would have done the same thing…”
The middle-aged woman, dressed in a gold robe, consoled the old man.
“Fate is a mysterious thing… Is this happening to us because of our earlier sins?”
The Clan Master and First Elder arrived to check on Junius. Thankfully, the boy is going to live to see another day. If not, even if he had to break the peace of the Frie Clan, the First Elder is willing to barge straight back into the Second Elder’s abode to exact vengeance.
“Don’t blame a child for his parent’s crime. That can also be said about the situation with Ash. Because of his unrelenting hatred, his next generation had grown up with a predisposing animosity towards the orphans. And once they grow up, they will start to fight Shin and the others with all their might. If any of the orphans get hurt, they will wish to get revenge. And thus, the wheel of hatred continues to spin… Till when will this cycle end?”
The Clan Master remained silent as she listened somberly at the old man’s rant. One of the great pillars of the Frie Clan, someone who could move the earth and burn the seas, seemed so weak as he monologues.
“I had wished to end the cycle in this generation. With the death of Ash and I, maybe they could restart afresh. But it seems that it is not meant to be…”
Sighing, the old man found a nearby chair and rested himself. It was a taxing day, and he was all but spent. Although he had not strained himself physically, mentally, it had been one of his most tiring days.
“What are your future plans?”
The Clan Master took a seat next to the exhausted old man. Once the two High Elders had bared fangs at each other, there was no going back. Although the Clan Master had managed to slow down the deterioration, a broken dam is doomed to fail and flood all who lived near it.
“Shin cannot remain on the mountain… Because of The Sovereign Koi, not only Ash, but other indignant members of the clan might target him.”
The Second Elder is not the only person who disliked the fact that Shin remained in the clan. A silent minority also wished to chase the boy out. Keeping him here will only cause a greater rift and push that opposition closer to the Second Elder’s camp.
“In fact, I have the perfect plan for him…”
Smiling bitterly, the First Elder watched the black-haired youth inside Junius’ ward. He did not wish to go to push Shin to this step, but currently, he had no other choice.
“Let’s make him a healer.”
~~~ End of Book 1 ~~~