Old Bayard was calling from the other side of the house, and inside was a teenage girl, around thirteen, fourteen of age, lying on a wooden table, her face occasionally clear to sight as the candlelight flickered from the winds. Not too far away, the sky had been gloomy for the past few days, dark clouds loomed over the village, every now and then there were flashes of purple lightning.
Lifting her head to be greeted by poor weather, she sighed as she dragged herself to the door, “Daddy, what is it?”
“Go grab my cape, and bring the horse cart. With the weather this awful, I don’t think we can do anything on the grounds, I am gonna bring the equipment down to the city for Betos to have a quick check, ” Old Bayard delegated whilst putting on his boots by the long stool.
Charice stood by the door of her room, staring out at the dispiriting weather beyond the living room, frowning for their livelihood, her fair arms crossed over her apron. “Do you need to go out in this weather?” she reluctantly reminded.
Old Bayard could tell the sincerity in his daughter’s tone as he glanced at the weather outside, and reassuringly he replied, “Just a little wind and drizzle, I’m guessing it’d get worse the next couple of days. Wouldn’t want to go out then.”
Charice let out a sigh, wiped her hands on her apron, and then bobbed her way across the living room to retrieve the cape, and wrapped it over her father, “Watch after Ansel and Arnold for me, alright. The young ones must be terrified of the lightning,” Old Payard briefly closed his eyes as his daughter wrapped the cape across his shoulders, and caringly tied a ribbon knot in the center. Whilst both were indulging in the little bonding moment between father and daughter, Charice then affectionately added, “Be careful daddy, the road must be slippery for the horses with all the puddles.”
“No worries my lovely child, those kiddos wouldn’t be coming out in this weather,” Old Bayard cracked a smile.
Charice knew her father was reassuring her of the Gnome and bandit attacks along the road, which had greatly reduced since the region went under new management, but she was still wary, with her hand over her mouth.
“Alright, go on,” Old Bayard told her off while looking at his daughter, who resembled his late wife the older she grew.
Charice nodded, turned around out the door, ran under the rain into the courtyard where the stable was located at the back. She forced open the wooden gate, under the dimly lit stable were two mares, both uneasy due to the unsettling weather.
Charice trampled across the hay to a mare named Ansel, gently patting her on the neck, humming them a lullaby to soothe their anxiety. But today, unlike others, the ashen maned mare was anxiously stomping its feet, its watery eyes wider than usual, reflecting whatever light that managed to seep into the stable, visibly restless.
“What is it,” Charice frowned. It didn’t take long before the teenage girl noticed that Ansel’s offsetting reaction was not a result of the lightning from the skies, but the ground.
She squatted down slightly, her sparkling pupils fixated on the ground, she instantly noticed a fair tremor from below, rustling through the pillars.
Right then, the maiden knew the earth was shaking!
A deeply ominous feeling took over as she stood up, hurried over to the stall doors, clenched her teeth as she unfastened the bulky metal chains and latches, threw them on the ground, and forced the stable gates open!
The horses were set free in the process as they galloped out of the stable without any delay to spare.
The ground at this point was already visibly shaking, water puddles and potholes began to rustle from the tremor. And just as Charice made her way out of the stable, a strange rumble was heard from the north side.
She paused, reactively turned behind towards the North end, where the endless Anserra forests lie.
Above the canopy of the forest, a humongous ball of light rose from within as it continuously moved upwards, penetrating the clouds and beyond. It was so blindingly bright the entire sky went dull for a moment as it went above the clouds, its roar so deafening it was as if the sky itself had cracked.
The detonation was a mixture of ear-piercing pitch and earth-shattering rumble. A shockwave was sent through the air like waves, one after another, eventually overshadowing all other sounds within the vicinity.
Trees shook and leaves scattered from the explosion, a symphony of lightning and thunder, horrid rain and gusts of wind leaving nothing left for the imagination.
Unjustly left in the center of the scene straight from a doomsday scenario, Charice, horrified, stood and watched as the hemisphere of flames gradually increased in size, systematically engulfing the sky, clouds into its circle of inferno as the world collapsed around her.
All of a sudden, the bright white light shattered, and out came clouds of fire as it blazed and propelled!
It started relatively slowly, before instantly swallowing the Anserra forest whole.
As the fiery monstrosity encroached towards the village, the upright cedar, the sturdy black pine, or the rolling hills had all succumbed to the bright, red flames.
As the heatwave crept in, Charice’s long hair had now fluttered in the increasingly suffocating air, watching as her stable had now been uprooted, Charice screamed and was on the verge of running.
But she was a tad bit too late.
A huge thud was heard, and in the subsequent moments after the cataclysmic mushroom of death demolished the entire village to the ground.
Charice’s eyes sprung open in panic. Drenched in a cold sweat, her face was pale as a sheet.
Supporting her arm on the bedside shelf, she realized that she had once again another nightmare, over a month after the catastrophic explosion.
Only after did she realized that the explosion happened on the north side of the Deadly Tundra, and the radius was only until slightly north of Goldfinch Mountains, the regions east of the Falling Needle Hills, yet every night she was haunted by recurring nightmares of Anserra forest and the village, the entire region of Lantonilan succumbing to the fiery claws of death.
Her head raised, watching the main pathway onwards to Kirrlutz outside her window, the forests pleasantly lining the road, providing necessary shade. Above it was a gorgeous, blue sky, clouds shaped in ways as far as the imagination could go. Since the explosion, the weather had been improving significantly day after day.
Occasionally, riders made it past the avenue, rarely crowded, those with Noble crests were usually knights, while others were accompanied, mostly adventurers.
These people had been gradually passing through since half a month ago, even though usually around this time of year, the visitors were adventurers that were just passing through heading north. Rarely anyone stops in Bernicel.
“Charice!” A voice was heard calling out her name.
Charice peered out to find the source of the voice mentioning her name. It was the hunter living next door, one that might have been gone to the city for quite some time now, “Uncle Becher, have you seen my father?” She was quick to ask, “Old Bayard? I’ve seen him at the blacksmith, what is it?” The hunter replied.
“It’s nothing, I was just worried. Uncle Becher, do you know what happened?” She glanced over at the knights as she whispered.
“You mean those knight geezers?” The hunter stood by the stable and glanced over to the flashy Noble knights men, shaking his head, “I’m guessing they must be looking for someone.”
“Looking for someone? Here?”
It has been more or less five weeks since the explosion, Eikkel, Youla, Makarov, and Count Audine could tell that the princess might appear indifferent, but privately she was restless.
It was fortunate however that the count’s dealings were still a success, given that Duke Viero was Count Radner’s nemesis in the public eye, both on and off the two had been involved in countless battles. If either was given the chance, they would naturally not slip up on the opportunity to crush the other once and for all.
A feud even the young brat Eikkel could identify, that Duke Viero was where he was due to his relationship with the late king.
Not to mention the Duke’s own daughter was the mother of the princess, once they witnessed as Princess Gryphine addressed her grandfather, everyone in attendance, even the oldest ranked in seniority, Makarov and Oberwei were all stunned to hear.
A fact about the Duke that seemed to line the edges of everyone’s collective memories was that, when younger, Duke Viero was a ladies man and eventually wedded an elf as his wife, yet no one seemed to have seen the Duchess’ face, nor were they aware that Aouine kingdom even had an elf as Duchess.
Nevertheless, Makarov and the rest, whilst at shock, seemed to realize that the once obedient child was no longer as blindly abiding as they wished for her to be. The truth was, the princess had always had the fire of rebellion in her.
King Oberg the Seventh’s wedding was wholly handled by the royal family. Even though news of the king marrying a half-elf would undeniably bring about rumors and dismay among the civilians, the old king still managed to commandingly display his thick-headedness. Furthermore, as the queen of the kingdom was still a human, the royal clan would never want to get on King Oberg the Seventh’s bad side for this.
It was today they found out that the stubborn, late king was not actually in pursuit of a simple, aimless relationship.
As for the Highland knights, no one knew where their generosity and affection originated from, given that the impending war had nothing to do with them.
Nevertheless, not only did they send a Black Tower Mage into the official envoy trope, they even swore to stand by the princess if she were to declare war on Count Radnor. This was not just an alliance, this was them swearing fealty to the kingdom.
This left the royals even more clueless than before. The Highland Knights of Aouine and the political environment that they adapted, even though historically were out of the norm, were never one to pledge allegiance to anyone else. Even at the peak era of the kingdom, the knights and the mages had only remained a relationship of mutual respect with the kingdom royalty.
In a time like this, they were the side on literal high ground, and the princess, after handling the Ampere Seale incident, had mostly relied on its tiny territory and a controversial subordinate in Count Trentheim to be in their current position.
If Duke Viero did not choose to side with them, the tide of battle would have leaned towards the Northern crown prince.
Yet the situation was now moving along with the current puzzling development. With the sworn loyalty of the Highland Knights, for House Griniores to pledge their allegiance was no longer a surprising turn of events, for it was unilaterally known that Count Grinoires was not an ambitious man, and was only a Noble by name and nothing else, for the man was hardly interested in the changes in politics.
Interestingly, when Count Grimoires sent out his party of envoys, the crowds rather derogatorily speculated among themselves if the Count actually arranged the envoy party himself, or was it his council or family members behind it instead.
Naturally, it was hardly a tough guess, yet the details bore the masses, and everyone was satisfied with just the revelation.
But the details did, however, provide some context.
The destiny of the Aouine throne, the recurring thought that haunted the young princess day in and day out, worsened as the war approached.
Buga and Oberwei had already taken the original route back to Lantonilan, since the cataclysmic explosion happened between the borders of Lantonilan and Viero, and both parties were eager to find the root cause.
The news from the frontlines was hardly reassuring. From the initial reports, nearly the entire Deadly Tundra forest had been wiped from existence, and east of the Gunn mountains, south of Violet castle there seemed to be an entirely new Necromancy realm appearing from within.
From the residual energy, it could prove that there was a recent explosion of gargantuan levels.
Much evidence described a massive crater in the core of the explosion, but no living witness was found to this day.
Amongst the circle of the kingdom’s rulers, especially the princess and her closest aides, that could only mean one thing:
The young prince had not returned.
Count Trentheim was also nowhere to be seen.
And now, what kept Makarov and Count Audine in distress was that the Kirrlutzian first in line to the throne had been missing since the explosion, along with their formidable Royal observation brigade and the Azure skies legion commander.
But both royalties had each received news at this point, that the Kirrlutzian envoys had already left a while earlier, and were en route to Aouine.
This was hardly favorable news.
Not until earlier that day.
An unexpected guest visited Castle Vallendaren.
Unsurprisingly, it was a visitor that was long sought after by the princess herself.
Outside the window, the green vines dangling from the city walls danced ever so slightly with the wind. Beyond that, the tranquil winds forest and the Gonn mountains supplemented the luscious view.
The warm, afternoon sun gradually shone over the windowpane, its soothing radiance lightened the room with a golden flare. Inside, behind an exquisite dark wood study desk, Princess Gryphine sat silently on her red woolen executive chair.
Trying her best to remain her composure, multiple times she asked for the time. “She’s almost here, Your Highness. She is now making her way across the hallway,” The handmaiden replied with an awkward smile.
Princess Gryphine nodded, took a quick breath, and right then a successive knocking was heard by the door. The entire room returned to silence for several moments, before she lightly replied, “Come in.”
The door was pushed open, and in came Freya, still in her Auoine military uniform. The only difference was this time her charisma and stance far exceeded her last visit, and besides her slightly reddish face, she was like the carbon copy of the Black knight, Maynild.
Slightly perplexed to see Princess Gryphine before her own eyes, as her original plans were to meet Macarov or Count Audine, prompting her to do a knight’s salute.
“Your Royal Highness.”
“Please rise,” The half-elf maiden appeared rather calm on the outside, yet only after several deep breaths was she fully calm, “ The Count...is he alright?”
“Your Highness, Brendel...he’s...doing fine,” Freya carefully replied.
Yet Princess Gryphine quickly got the point, despite her best efforts of masking her emotions, she could hardly hide her restlessness as she quickly followed with a second question, “What about my brother?”
“Prince Haruz is doing well too, they are both doing well.”
The half-elf princess finally let out a faint sigh of relief. Despite restraining all her actions to avoid exposing her anxiety, she still appeared rather somber, her head at that moment was fuzzy.
There she sat for a long while, both relieved yet rather disappointed, notably towards Count Trentheim’s remarks. Yet it did not take long before she returned to her usual calm, “Why didn’t the Count come by on his own?”
“Ms. Maynild and others are still recuperating from injury, the lord commander would like to send them back to Frada or the Firbur group to be treated first.”
Princess Gryphine lowered her gaze, visibly in contemplation. Momentarily after, she turned towards Freya, her grey pupils seemed to brighten with clarity, “Freya, this is an excuse isn’t it?”
Freya was left embarrassed by her weak excuse. The true reason for Scarlet’s disappearance was still under investigation by Brendel, with all the bits and pieces he could find of the Highland maiden.
Deeper reasons lay within as she recalled Brendel’s warning to the servants by the princess’ side. Shen then offered a simple nod towards the handmaiden.
Princess Gryphine tilted her head ever so slightly towards her handmaiden, “Go tell the Highland knights that the Count will not be arriving anytime soon, but he is still alive, ask if they have any opinions on this.”
The handmaiden nodded and dutifully left.
The princess then turned back and took to asking, “Tell me what really happened, and that explosion, I want to know everything about it.”
Freya took a deep breath.
“Alright, Your Highness, this is how it went…”
Around dusk, a horse carriage fully occupied with goods came trotting into town, towards the direction of the harbor. But right then, there appeared to be an increasing crowd gathered before the route the horse carriage was heading.
A certain incident seemed to have happened on the road to the harbor.
Not long after, the crowd had grown so large that the carriage had to stop. The driver got down and went into the crowd for an inquiry, and down came a man shrouded under a dark cape.
He seemed to be in a fairly recent injury, his movements slightly disjointed as he limped towards the front of the carriage, leaned in to talk to the driver, and then limped back onto the carriage again.
Right then, a voice resonated from inside the tinted carriage, “What is it, Boymer?” The man sounded crusty, akin to that of an elderly man.
“It’s good news, Babarn, rescue is on the way!” The man in the front was gleeful as he came towards the carriage. Whispering, he said, “It’s our band of envoys, they have just docked.”
The carriage remained silent.
Viscount Babarn sat by the hay, his face pale as a sheet, seemingly suffering from terminal illness. Hearing the words from his companion, he could finally let out a sigh of relief.
Painfully, he forced his way into a sitting position, his hands unveiling a black cloth to reveal a whole crystal.
And in that crystal was a redhead maiden, holding a spear. The young maiden was almost humanlike, stunning as she was intriguing. But this time, Babarn was not paying attention to Scarlet, he was bewitched by the halberd in her grasp, unable to look away.