Chapter 56:

Meeting of Future Elders

Mad God


While Ren and Leinor were gone and Anya retreated because she felt tired, Dermitos, Feynor, and Xendar were out on the balcony, still drinking wine, enjoying the night breeze.


"Should I call you Uncle now?" Feynor joked.


"Nah, you are the Emperor; you can order me around; it would feel weird otherwise." Xendar laughed.


"Not for long." Dermitos cut in.


"Mmm?" Both of them looked at him.


"Soon, you will step down as a General." he continued.


"And why is it that I don't know about this?" Xendar furrowed his brow but still remained calm.


"It's the forefather." Dermitos took another gulp as Feynor and Xenadr seemed enlightened. "But you will know more tomorrow night. There will be a lot of things to discuss."


"We have a problem." Nameless's voice came suddenly as he appeared next to them, and all three of them shook their bodies, expelling any alcohol that could affect their minds.


"Speak." Feynor looked at him.


"Emergency transmission came from the border kingdom where Prince Lacuss is staying. It came from him directly. We received a message from the Kingdom."


"That was… quick. Did even our messenger arrive there yet?" Xendar asked, surprised.


"Shouldn't be the case." Dermitos shook his head. "He should be still on his way."


"What was in the message?" Feynor asked.


"Heads," Nameless answered with a stoic voice.


"..." all three looked at each other, and Xendar turned a bit pale as he knew what this meant.


"Everyone?" Feynor asked quietly.


"Yes. The whole family lines up with King Rudrick directly. The only living descendants of that line should be Yurik, Lady Anya, and now Lady Ren."


“Fuck… that old bastard…” Dermitos groaned, looking worriedly at Xendar, who resumed his somewhat calm expression.


"Thank you. Don't do anything yet; call back the messenger too." Feynor ordered.


"Yes." Nameless nodded as he disappeared again.


"Sending the heads to us prevents us from any demands later on. He is a ruthless person, cutting off his flesh like this." Feynor sighed.


"He is." Xendar agreed, "Now I need to think how to tell this to Anya. Even after the exile, she always thought about her mother and younger siblings. Not everyone was the same as Yurik or her father… or like her grandparents who facilitated the marriage with you in the first place." Xendar looked at Dermitos.


"I know. Family is important. The few letters they exchanged every year; I was never against it. Can I help with anything?" Dermitos asked, patting his friend's shoulder.


"No… no. I'll tell her tomorrow… or after the meeting. Maybe the wedding will soften the blow." He sighed, shaking his head. "But thanks."


"Hey, we are friends." Dermitos patted his shoulder again.


"If we are, then out with it. You have acted strangely since you came back. What is it?" Xendar asked, and Feynor also nodded.


"Yeah, you are… different, father."


"It is because of two things." he sighed, leaning against the balcony, crossing his hands, and letting out a troubled breath. "For once, I advanced."


"Congratulations!" Both of them said that while Feynor looked genuinely happy, Xendar felt something did happen, and this was not a happy occasion.


"Second… your mother is dead," Dermitos said slowly, looking at Feynor.


It was sudden, and Feynor needed a few seconds to process the news, yet he just closed his eyes before sighing.


"I see. Somehow I knew it. We were never that close, so we rarely met since I was growing up, but I just got this feeling a few days ago. The same is true for my siblings."


"I know. It is partly my fault." Dermitos looked at him apologetically.


"No, it's not. Mother was… ill. She couldn't control it; I never blamed her; I accepted it. I guess she did something now that was…" but He suddenly stopped, rubbing his face, as Xendar also realized why Meishan died. As long as Dermitos did not cut the energy supply to her mortal body, she could live as long as they did, free from any illness, thanks to her husband's affinity. "It was her, wasn't it?"


"Yes. She sent the letter out." He nodded heavily.


"Tsk… just because Anya ended up with me… she still couldn't let it go after this many years?" Xendar shook his head.


"As Feynor said, she was ill. Her mind was poisoned, and I was the source. I made her that way, and only I am to be blamed for her death and everything that happened before it. She couldn't process that I helped you and Anya end up together, and I refused to "accept a gift" to my harem."


"You gave her a long life, father. Longer than any mortal could dream of, keeping her young all these years. A cultivator who does not train the mind alongside the body can't process the long years. She broke under that and not because of you."


"It's kind of you to say that, son." Dermitos smiled, but it was a sad smile. "But I know what role I played in it. After she passed away, I needed time to think… that was when I advanced. It's still not the most stable state I am in, but I am slowly getting the hang of it. It was her last gift to me." he said with a choking voice, slowly gulping back his emotions before Feynor hugged him, patting his back. "Thanks…" he whispered in response.


"Hey… it's okay." Xendar joined in, too, comforting his friend.


"I did not want to mess with the youngsters' big day; they had been getting ready for it for a long time. I don't want to publicize it, either. I'll tell Reignar tomorrow and Leinor after that. I'll hold an informal burial later the day after tomorrow; none of you need to come."


"I will. I think the others too. I'll speak with them." Xendar said.


"Thanks. Sorry, I didn't want to bum you out." He chuckled, looking at them, showing a side of him that only close family and friends knew as he was now not the Aerthus IX or Dermitos, the second-level Harmony Expert, but a man who was still struggling with the grief of losing his wife of almost a century, someone who accompanied him to everywhere in the past.



….
…..


When morning came, and the sun shone in through the window glass, Ren was stretching with pleasure still on her face, snuggling up to Leinor's body, hugging him closely as he was also slowly waking up. The sheets around them were torn in multiple places, the pillows scattered around the room, and their clothes or what remained littered the bed and the floor.


"It still hurts…." Leinor moaned.


"Hey… I should be the one saying that!" Ren giggled, looking down at the bloody stain under them. "Strange, even in fights, when I got hammered, it didn't hurt anywhere close like yesterday."


"Weeeelll… I did hammer you good~."


"Ahahahaha! Nice, ding-dong, 10 points!" she laughed loudly, kissing his face.


"Still… you were like a wildcat yesterday! If I didn't regenerate this quickly, I would be full of bite and scratch marks!" He pecked her lips while holding her by her small, soft buttocks.


"Sorry~ It was because it hurt like nothing before! Really!" She stuck her tongue out.


"Then why didn't you slow down?"


"My mother did not raise a quitter!" She winked at him.


"Hah! But if it matters… It was the best night of my life."


"It does matter~ And yes… it was mine too~ But tonight, we are skipping it!" Ren sat up on him, flinching a little "Man… it still stings! I recover more slowly than you. Give me a rest tonight. In return, I can entertain you differently~."


"No worries. I'm not like Reignar; I'm okay waiting until you feel ready for it."


"I'll also speak with Isha."


"Should I be afraid?"


"Oh yes~" Ren giggled, playing drums on his chest happily. "I'll need to learn to use m body to its fullest; you will be the happiest husband in the realm; just you wait for ~."


"Why does it sound… weird?"


"Fufufu~ I like weird~" She leaned over him, kissing his lips while Leinor hugged her lovingly, not wanting to let her go… ever.



….
…..


It was close to noon when the young pair came down to have something to eat, meeting up with the others who were either grinning, like Isha, or just smiling at them with warmth, like Anya. When Ren sat down next to Leinor, she grimaced a little, taking a sharp breath through her teeth, prompting the others to laugh loudly.


"Very funny, laugh! Mooooom, you never told me this was going to happen…." Ren moaned skulkingly while Anya just giggled, stroking her daughter's head.


"Everybody is different."


"Well, at least we know you are blessed." Poli whistled, looking at Leinor while Emi was trying to figure out what he was talking about with furrowed brows.


"Khm. Maybe." Leinor scratched his throat, looking proud of himself, making now Xendar laugh out who he was until now, trying to look as cold as he could. It was his little baby girl they were talking about! But he couldn't hold back any longer, remembering his first night with Anya, who was so fussy about it at first it was a miracle she turned out the way she is now.


"Why are you so wimpy about it?" Isha rolled her eyes. "You are a level above us all; it shouldn't even hurt."


"Well, it does! Hmph! I'm not as padded as you!" Ren harrumphed, pouting.


"Wha-?!" Isha choked while Zern just patted her back.


"Easy, easy, she just wants to get on your nerves," Zern whispered.


"Whoa, you go against your master? The nerve!"


"Yo, Master, I can beat him up for you!" Poli raised his hand.


"You can't even beat Emi; what are you jumping around like a clown?" Zern looked back at him with a deadpan expression.


"Ugh…" Poli flinched.


"Hey, don't drag me into this." Emi snorted but looked proud as in the past days they held multiple little competitions, and the standing was 4:2 to Emi.


"It's unfair… I'm handicapped. Literally." Poli mumbled, sounding like a little kid.


"It was you who suggested all of the things we should compete in." the fox girl added with a sly smile.


"Tsk… Next time-"


"No." She shook her head, and her words made everyone look at her. "I'm going home."


"Oh…" Poli flinched, falling silent instantly.


"Are you okay now?" Leinor asked as Emi still had the long scar over her body.


"Back to a stable strength, I can travel the forest without a problem, and once I'm back home, I can recuperate at Lady Rumira's place."


"I see!" Ren sighed. "Do you need someone to escort you back?"


"I'll go with Niji until the Forest, then I'll go by myself. Sorry but I'm not willing to reveal our home to you yet."


"Yet?" Leinor raised his eyebrows.


"We will see how things turn out. I'll make my report to Lady Rumira honestly." Emi answered calmly.


"That's the only thing I ask of you. Thanks." Ren nodded at her with an honest smile.


"Mm." She wiped her mouth with a napkin, looking at the suddenly crestfallen Poli. "What. It's that hard to accept losing to me?" She asked sarcastically, taking a sip from the orange juice before her.


"Huh? No… I'll miss you." Poli answered honestly.


"Pft?!" Emi spurted the drink right out her nose onto the table. "W-w-what are you saying?!"


"Huh? That, I'll miss you; I really like you." Poli blinked innocently while Ren just held her hand before her mouth, trying not to laugh, same with the others watching with great interest.


"Like? Me? Huh! You lost your arm to me, and we almost killed each other! What are you on about?"


"Oh… yeah, that happened. But hey, I survived, my friends survived, you survived, so it's water under the bridge!"


"I can't deal with humans!" She moaned, standing up quickly. "Thank you for the meal." she bowed a little and stormed off.


"Did I say something wrong?" Poli looked around with uncertainty.


"No. She's just shy." Isha leaned back. "Still… You are pretty straightforward, huh?"


"Huh? Um, why should I pretend otherwise? I realized she was not a bad person. Stupid, yes, but not bad." He watched their faces, not getting why he was looked at this way.


"Who you call stupid?!" Emi stormed back suddenly, huffing and puffing.


"Woah, you are still here?" Poli flinched.


"Ugh! You! My ears are not just for decoration, you dumbass!"


"She did learn some words..." Leinor whispered to the nodding wife of his.


"Listen well, you half-armed dork!" She pointed at him. "For your insult, just so you know, I'll come back and have a rematch with you! I still have not forgiven you for almost killing me! We will have our rematch when we are back to top form! Don't say I did not warn you in time!"


"Sure! The loser gets to be the other's maid." Poli nodded.


"Sure! Wait. What?" Emi said immediately but then just blinked her eyes as her foxtail trembled, realizing what she agreed to.


"We are the witnesses." Ren stood up immediately. "It is settled then!"


“Wha… wait… ah… uuughh… You all! Fine! Fine! Hmph!" Emi stomped angrily before storming out once again.


"Don't lose." Ren looked at Poli with a grin. "I won't help you out."


"No problem Master~" He leaned back, now with a satisfied expression.



….
…..


It was close to the evening when all of them met once again, but now they were in the palace's conference hall, and surprisingly even the Emperor sat around the giant oval table and not at the helm, which was left empty for now.


Those invited consisted of the currently living or available bloodline of Aerthus, namely Carthus, Dermitos, Boursat, Feynor, Reignar, and of course, Leinor. Then there was Ren and her family and friends; the only missing ones were Niji and Emi, who were already returning to the Forest.


"How's your new daughter?" Ren asked with a smile, looking at Reignar at the other side of the table.


"Fine, she still has sudden headaches sometimes, especially if she works herself up, but it is manageable. I left her in the library, aun- khm, Queen Anniel takes care of her."


"I should thank her." Feynor chuckled. "She started to ask if we could try for an heir. It seems taking care of her from time to time awakened something inside her besides the love of reading and studying." Feynor joked around, making the others also chuckle.


"I see everyone is here!" came a cheerful voice, and when everyone looked, Aerthus was sitting in the empty chair with an excited expression. "No need for formalities, as all of you guessed already; I am Aerthus; it's good to meet you all!" he said with a casual line, skipping any formality.


"Oh, the legend himself?" Ren blinked her eyes, licking her lips. "Third level?"


"Ahaha, you have sharp senses, girl." He nodded while her father was trying to signal to her to not be disrespectful. "I was surveying all of you in the past weeks, and I'm pleased with what I saw. I'm assured you will be the backbone of my Sect."


"Sect?" most of them looked around while Ren's eyes started to shine as this was what she was waiting for.


"I have a question first!" Ren raised her hand while Xendar just facepalmed himself, realizing nothing could control her daughter by now.


"Sure, go ahead!"


"Where are the others?"


"Others?" Carthus looked around before realizing her meaning.


"My grandson, Urgius, has been missing after he tried to cross the desert. We don't know if he died or not." Aerthus answered, referring to Aerthus III. "He tried to cross it at only the first level…" he said, shaking his head. "My son Levictus warned him before leaving, but he did not listen. Speaking of Leviticus, he stayed on the other side. He is similar to your second son." he chuckled, looking at Dermitos. "You all know Restar died in battle, about his sons…." Aerthus fell silent for a minute reorganizing his thoughts, remembering the reports he periodically received when something important happened back home. "Aerthus V, namely Erborus, after abdicating the throne, went on a tour to try to reach the second level. No words from him still. He may have tried to cross the desert; we don't know as we lost contact with him after 20 years."


"That is correct. Still no updates on that." Carthus nodded, confirming him as Aerthus took a peek at him. "Same with his Brother who succeeded him, Astran, Aerthus VI. He was maybe the first to be an unwilling emperor, more focused on cultivation than anything else."


"My father was not the best at communicating with people," Boursat spoke up, as he was the son of Astran and the Brother of Erterion. "I never met with Uncle Erborus. He left before my Brother and I were born. To be honest, we were only conceived because the throne needed an heir. After our age and strength, he immediately passed on the throne and then left. To where we still don't know, some clues point to the Forest but nothing concrete. It was then that everything started to go awry. Not the best times." he shook his head, remembering his Brother, who slowly turned from a talented, bright boy to a bloody tyrant.


"Everything takes its natural course." Aerthus clapped. "Did we satisfy your curiosity?"


"Yup!" Ren grinned.


"Great~ Now let's talk business. I already scouted out a great place along the Shert River." Aerthus said as he laid out a giant map on the table, showing the river and the two kingdoms that occupied the territory.


For one reason, it was one of the most conflict-ridden zones along the river. It broke into two streams, going around a giant mass of land, forming an independent island in the middle, before joining back at the other end of it, flowing on its merry way onward.


The island formed in the middle of it was around half as big as the capital and its surrounding territories, named Teardrop Island because of its shape. It changed hands more than one could keep track of as from the western bank, the Rorik kingdom bordered the river, loyal to the Aerthus line, while from the east, the Naulin's puppet state, the Qun kingdom, faced them.


The seemingly unimportant patch of land in the middle of the river was always a source of conflict as both claimed ownership of it. Through the centuries, the two families in charge of their small kingdoms were supported by the giants behind them, fighting proxy wars for so long that the hatred between the two sides was so deep it could not be reconciled.


"I checked the island; it's an untouched CC mine." Aerthus tapped on the island's drawing while the others looked at him with question marks in their eyes. "Sorry, I forgot you don't know about it. Let me explain." he smiled, looking around them before organizing his thoughts.


“CC… is it…?” Ren thought, and soon a small smile formed on her face as now he was sure who Aerthus met while he was away as it was a term that she was familiar with. It was even used as currency in the old days as it was a rare yet useful item to cultivators back then, helping them raise their cultivation when used correctly.


"It's an abbreviation. My mentors used the correct name for conductive crystals, but everyone calls them CC for short. They are a kind of mineral found in different places around the world. How and what forms them are unknown, and they predate even the Cataclysm."


"Are they rare?" Dermitos asked.


"Yes. And no. Let me explain. There are few places where you can find mines where you get them from. But usually, when a vein is discovered, it is enormous and goes deep. Really deep. On the other side, a dozen or so mines are known to us, all under the control of a regional superpower, more precisely, a sect. They strictly control the flow of CC because its multi-purpose usage is invaluable."


"Do they use it as currency? Or only to forge weapons and armor?" Ren asked suddenly, with a half smile.


"Hah… you are really sharp!" Aerthus grinned. "Yes. To all of them. These crystals have this name for a reason. They can facilitate the convergence of energy in the air and help a cultivator draw in his or her affinity, helping to cultivate it, especially in the body refinement realm, speeding up the process greatly. This consumes the crystal, so depending on its size, it can be used for hours, days, or weeks. Combining it with Ren's method will give a boost I am stoked to see! Secondly, they can be used in forging; adding them in the process will make the final product conductive, greatly helping the wielder's powers through the weapon or armor. Your sword." He pointed at Poli. "It contains a great amount of it, somehow it fused with another kind of crystal but seeing you wield it and the characteristics of it, it has a great amount of CC inside, that's for sure. Because it has such great usage and is a sought-after material for cultivators, they use them as currency in the cultivation world. For mortals, it's useless; for us, it is priceless."


"So we will establish the sect on the island?" Xendar thought, looking at the map, already devising how to establish defenses on it.


"Yes, and I also want this as a test." Aerthus nodded.


"What kind of test?" Carthus furrowed his eyebrows.


"To see who is fit for what. The Sect will have a strict order and rules that, if broken, could result in heavy penalties. I'll act as Sect Head; under me, a Council of Elders will be responsible for different aspects of the Sect. Namely the following:" He said, holding out his fingers:


" 1) Disciplinary Department: This group will oversee the members and resolve conflicts inside the Sect.
2) Alchemy Department: This I will explain in more detail later, but it is an interesting field I picked up while touring.
3) Formation Department: Same as before, it's a trait that can enhance our strength greatly. Honestly, this will be under my son's leadership; you will know later why.
4) Artifact Department: I brought back a lot of great schematics of weapons and armor; we will need people proficient in forging, but this can be put on hold for now."


After finishing, he waited for them to repeat it inside their heads before continuing.


"These will be the four cornerstones of the Sect. Each department will have a leading Grand Elder who is also a member of the Council. Below them will be the Core Elders, who act as sub-leaders of their departments. Every department's sub-leaders can elect one representative as theirs to be at the council meetings. The Council itself will have the power to decide the course of action of the Sect, the financing, recruiting, expeditions, and everything, while I, as the Sect Head, can overrule decisions. If I do so, we will have another meeting and discuss it again until we reach a consensus."


".." most of the people here quickly memorized his words, looking at each other, but Aerthus was not done yet.


"Outside the departments, there will be the Sect as a whole. I don't want the different departments to act all the time independently; they should work together and not against each other. I don't mind competition but only if it's a healthy one. Any other, I'll nip in the bud."


"What about the disciples?" Ren's voice came again while the others were still thinking over his words.


"The first layer will be outer disciples. They are those who wish to join, or we see potential in them and accept them into the fold. They will be the working ants of the Sect. They will be assigned menial tasks as they will number the most people. They are paid with resources, public lectures, and a chance."


"Chance?" Boursat asked, biting onto his finger.


"To take the test I came up with. To cut it short now, it is going to test a lot of sides and the talent of a cultivator; if they pass, they can be called inner disciples. They will have their own place; imagine them as students. They will focus on cultivation and have regular classes that are mandatory with regular examinations. Failing to meet requirements can result in their demotion back to outer discipline. Once an inner disciple shows great potential, she or he can have a master and be called Core Disciple. Those talented people will form the main power of the Sect and can host public lessons for the Inner and Outer disciples, and so on; they will be the ones on who we focus our most efforts. Every one of the core disciples has the chance to later become an Elder and rise even further. Elders can take on disciples, and later on, if the needs arrive, I can establish more departments." Then he looked at Feynor with an apologetic expression "The Empire, and the Sect will be a different entity, or to be more precise, the Empire will serve as a subordinate of the Sect. You will be an Elder in Name, like every Emperor. Their sole responsibility will be to ensure the stability of the Empire and ensure there will always be fresh cultivators who can be inducted into the Sect and resources supplied to us. Those who do not meet the criteria of the Sect will be reassigned to strengthen the Empire."


"Why the apologetic face?" Feynor laughed. "I am here to care about the millions living under our Empire. It's a great honor to be their Emperor!"


"When an Emperor abdicates and passes on the throne, he will have the chance to be promoted to an Elder position in the sect." Aerthus added, "We will talk more about how the successor of the Emperor will be decided; for now, I'm not planning on changing it. Now… is there any question?"


"So the test is to see who will take the role of Grand Elder, Core Elder, or just as an Elder, am I correct?" Ren asked.


"Yes." He smiled with a satisfied expression. "Age does not matter. Bloodline does not matter. What does matter is the effort you put in. I will choose the positions by talent and not by bloodline connections." He said with a stern voice, mainly looking at his descendants. "So, for the test, it is pretty simple. Take control of the island. That's all."


"That can be done in multiple ways," Dermitos murmured.


"Yes. I want you all to take your time and think about how you would do it. You have three days; we will meet again and listen to everyone's suggestions." Aerthus looked around them. "I know this was a lot to dump on you all; rest and think it through. After three days, we will meet again!" He stood up, signaling the end of their first meeting, and after everybody acknowledged his words, Aerthus just disappeared.


"I feel like the test is already on its way." Ren chuckled while the others just looked at her. "If you are not careful, I'll be your supe- ouch!" came a smack to the back of her head from Anya, resulting in some laughter coming from the others, and even Carthus let a small smile creep up on his face. Leinor patted his wife's hand to calm down the now-sulking Ren.