Freya stared wide-eyed as she tumbled down from midair. She could only watch as the female knight made another swing at her, but her heavily injured body could not dodge the attack. She closed her eyes helplessly and felt chilled to the core.
But a surprised shout replaced the bloody scene that should have been unavoidable.
Under the watchful eyes of the crowd, an azure lance firmly blocked Laurenna’s sword with a clang. The female knight immediately realized that her opponent had reinforcements and subconsciously wanted to draw her blade back and retreat. In the next moment, she realized with amazement that -- she was stuck.
“How could this be?”
Laurenna was flabbergasted. Ever since she had learned the Flash Strike Sword Art, this had never happened. She realized that she wasn’t rooted to the ground because of any magic. Instead, space, which had been under her control, had become distorted and she had lost her grasp on it. Her blade, which had previously moved according to her will, now felt like it was stuck in layers of ice.
She looked up in stunned amazement at the ponytailed girl standing in front of her.
Scarlet remained silent, simply staring back at her with the azure lance in her hands.
Another girl at Golden Peak. Even though Laurenna had long known about Brendel’s powers, she had never dreamt that an area like Trentheim would have so many geniuses hidden among its people, as if all the freaks of Aouine had gathered here.
Just then, an emotionless voice rang out, “Flash Strike Sword Art relies on manipulating space to cause direct damage. Under Undefeatable Destiny’s influence, the movement between space has been reduced to not even 10% of its original abilities. There really is a counter to every attack.”
That voice caused Delphine, standing behind the knights, to lose all the color in her face.
“Count Trentheim.” The woman said the name as if through gritted teeth.
She subconsciously took a step back, but the voice called out first, “Ciel.”
As the last syllable fell, invisible prisons descended from the sky upon every Kirrlutzian. And then a chilly voice reached the knights’ ears: “Law of Space: Freeze.”
Along with the voice, Brendel appeared from amongst the crowd. Before he parted the crowd, he caught Freya tumbling in mid-air and stared coldly at the daughter of the Kirrlutzian Prime Minister.
“My lady, I believe we’ve met before at the Loop of Trade Winds, haven’t we?”
“Did Veronica send you here to let me know that Kirrlutz is prepared to declare war upon Aouine? If so, I am ready to meet you anytime.”
As soon as Brendel made the declaration, noise erupted around him.
The Holy Palace of Eloideniel was surrounded year-round by dense mist. The deathly silent hall made of black sunstone reflected a dark blue light and was as fathomless black as the surface of a mirror. Reflected on the black surface was a Corpse’s Pillar made of 120 white bones, which supported a gothic dome made of layers of skeletons.
Here, legend says the breath of the living would be immediately frozen into crystals like shards of glass. So the air was always bone-chillingly frigid in the great hall, and the “Howl of Hunger” circled around the dome, like a constant murmur.
The residents around the Silent Port  believed the “How of Hunger” was made up of the shrieks of the hungry ghosts who climbed out from the depths. The people of Vuante believed that the breath of the dying would turn into wind and circle around them. In reality, this natural phenomenon had been here long before Madara formed his nation.
 Note: the port between today’s Northern Aouine and Sanorso
In this barely detectable howling of the wind, black knights covered with black cloaks walked among the columns. The ends of their cloaks were decorated with golden hook-like decorations, which clanged as they dragged across the floor. These followers of the darkness kept walking until they crossed the enormous Female Spiders of the Spirit Realm, which lay hidden along the two sides of the Corpse’s Pillar. Under the watchful gaze of the four pairs of lantern-like eyes, they separated into two columns in the center of the hall. They remained quiet, as silent as if they were of one mind.
The Yinstar Dragon stood alongside Tagus at the end of the great hall and watched the proceedings with amusement. Like most of his conservative and decaying -- as if the lamps of their lives were sputtering out-- Undead brethrens, he had a broad knowledge base. He knew about the land of the ancient country opposite of the black Bramante Rose and of its people, knew about the brilliant cultures of Kirrlutz and even knew that the Black Knights commonly recorded in Aouine and Kirrlutz literature were mistakenly depicted as a type of Undead known as armored skeletons -- in contrast to the most widely circulated rumor, Hull’s Black Knights were a special type of Undead, even in Madara. Their territories mostly bordered the inner seas of the Dying Moon and they kept up the chillingly elegant traditions of the times during which they had been alive. The living carved their oaths onto their armor before dying and the fires of their souls surrounded those obsessive thoughts and they were animated by the fires of vengeance. That is how the Black Knights came to be.
Their obsession was famous, even in Madara. Even though humans will often say someone is as stubborn as the decaying skeletons of Madara, Black Knights were extra obsessive. When they were alive, these knights followed rules obsessively. When they died, these knights remained forever trapped by their oath and curse.
The Yinstar Dragon felt like they could be called the “Madara of Madaras”. He watched the scene unfold with an amused expression, which was in great contrast to the seriousness that Tagus, who stood beside him, portrayed.
A buzzing voice sounded in the great hall: “In the name of the ever darkened moon and the black blossom, the highest ruler of the dark country, the wielder of the staff of Loki, please accept the loyalty and admiration from the northern vassals.”
It was as if the voice further stretched out the empty great hall. It passed to the other far end of the hall, but did not receive a response for quite a while. At the head of the great hall, the overlord sat waiting on the throne for a few moments before acquiescing with a quiet, “Hmm.”
The black knights all lowered their heads.
“We applaud our majesty’s authority. Now that the territories in the Seas of the Dying Moon have also returned to our fold, we are close to finishing the unification of the Darkened Kingdoms, which began a thousand years ago. With the exception of that woman Alvitr, who is planning who-knows-what, we only have the Kingdom of the Spiders to worry about. Tagus, the dying moon has risen again. To be able to participate in such a historical moment gives me such an anticipation.” The Yinstar Dragon looked at the kneeling Black Knights and couldn’t help but discuss this quietly with his companion.
“Anticipation is not a feeling the dead should have.” Tagus said calmly, without any changes to his expression. As the most noble of the Meinlayn vampires, he was allowed to wear the gold embroidered black robes of nobles and looked ridiculous next to the non-titled Yinstar Dragon. “Madara has begun to operate according to the will of the Mercury Staff. It is like a curse and not a goal. The world of the living takes but a moment to decay in the eyes of the Undead. To me, only time, truth, and dust have value.”
“That is why the mortals outside call us the stubborn skeletons.”
“But the show is just beginning, Tagus. The arrival of the Black Knights today is just an appetizer.” The Yinstar Dragon never felt self-conscious because of his humble stations. Instead, he continued eagerly, “Look, his majesty has recalled the Bloodstaff. Something good must have happened.”
Tagus remained silent. In fact, he already knew what happened. A week before, two nobles of the dark were attacked, one after the other, in Madara’s southern territory that was close to Aouine. The castle of one of the vampires was practically burned to ash and all that remained were the signs of a huge “cleansing” by fire. Almost none of the Undead survived.
This meant that at least one group of the knights of the Holy Cathedral of Fire have snuck into the borders of Madara.
For this to happen at this time of year, Tagus smelled the scent of conspiracy even though this was not a rare occurrence along the borders of Aouine and Madara. The humans answered the call of the Holy Cathedral and the Undead fought to occupy their territory. They both often sent private groups of knights or formed armies to invade each other’s territory.
Except that ever since the coronation of Aouine’s Oberg the Sixth, Madara has shifted its strategy from defensive to offensive and gradually gained the initiative in this war.
But the present was no longer the past. The contract between Aouine and Madara has just passed its first anniversary and rumor has it that the human kingdom was mired in a civil war; they clearly would not think lightly of declaring war right now.
So now it became a question of who was trying to muddy up the waters and sneak away with benefits.
The indifferent vampire squinted his only remaining eye. He lifted his head and saw the Dark Leader, who had taught Aouine a painful lesson at Karsuk just as the Yinstar Dragon predicted, slowly walk to the middle of the hall, adorned in a bloody robe. This was Cheque, the King of the Necromancers and the Bloodstaff.
“My honored majesty, I have brought you a piece of unhappy news today.”
“Those humble humans have once again challenged your honor on Madara’s territory.”
“Those stubborn human nobles seem to have forgotten the pain of the wounds from the battle a year ago.”
“Today, I am asking your permission to bring them new terrors.”
The hoarse voice of the Bloodstaff echoed under the dome of the Holy Palace of Eloideniel, but Tagus and the Yinstar Dragon both narrowed their eyes at those words.
Brendel lightly tossed the letter from Delphine’s hands back at her. He examined the woman closely. In fact, he’s already encountered her before at the Loop of Trade Winds, but he’d only seen her from afar and was nowhere as detailed an examination as today.
He had to admit that her beauty was enough to bend anyone’s heart to her will. Of all the women he’s met, only the Princess Gryphine could give her a run for the money.
But compared to Delphine’s scheming and evil ways, the Royal Princess was as naive as a child.
“Lady Delphine, I do not know how I have offended you. But I do not think you need to risk it all to take revenge upon me… Lady Veronica asked you to deliver this message to me. Come to think of it, it doesn’t seem like Kirrlutz is planning on declaring war with Aouine and instead, have a favor to ask of me --”
He paused and then couldn’t resist giving a slightly sarcastic twist to his words, “If she knew this is how you presented the terms to me, she would probably be dissatisfied.”
The daughter of the Prime Minister remained silent and stared at him codly. The hatred in her eyes was like a hissing poisonous snake, which made Brendel frown. For the life of him, he cannot figure out what he has done to offend her so that she would look at him as if they were mortal enemies.
Luckily he did not need the woman to speak. He looked at the letter, the content of which he was already aware of. He lifted his head and silently ran through the course of history in his mind and figured out which event was happening.
The Bloodstaff had staged a show, which had also happened before in the course of history. He had thought that the course of history had been so completely altered that this would not happen, but he hadn’t counted on the unfortunate King of Necromancer still bringing the trouble to his doorsteps.
But Brendel squinted his eyes and wasn’t too worried.
This was an excellent chance. It was rare to encounter a historical event he was familiar with, and he doubted he’ll get many such chances in the future.