"Brendel, where the hell are we going?"
The metal components of the two horses' cloaks clattered as they travelled through the forest, one ahead and one behind. Freya, on horseback, held the reins in one hand and turned her head somewhat worriedly to look at the surrounding scenery. The still forest was like a painting, with a refreshing greenness seeping out from the background, sunlight passing through the canopy of trees and scattering like a curtain of light on the dead leaves.
The forest was silent, save for the rustle of horses' hooves on dead leaves and the sound of metal clashing against metal.
Freya's face was a little pale, though after having been treated by Merial for the minor injury she’d suffered from Laurenna she was no worse for wear. Still, the long trek on horseback and blood loss had taken its toll on her slightly.
“Tired?" Brendel looked back at her, concerned.
"No, but...but it's getting dark, and if we go any further, we won't make it back to Schafflund.." Freya said with a tone full of concern, wondering why Brendel had suddenly called her along to Schafflund and deep into the Grahar Mountains.
A little further on was the Black Forest.
"It's all right." On his horse, Brendel smiled, appearing unconcerned. "We can camp out in the field when it gets dark. I'm here, are you worried?"
But Freya's face reddened at once, "But, but, but we only have one tent."
Brendel enjoyed the future valkyrie’s flustered expression, so he did not rush to answer, waiting for a moment until she glared at him fiercely before laughing, "Actually, that was a lie; we’re almost there."
Freya let out a sigh of relief, then realized she had been teased. She took a deep breath and had a hard time resisting the urge to punch his smirking face, but then saw he had pulled back his reins and exhaled quietly. The horse he was sitting on stopped. Brendel carefully scrutinized his surroundings as if to confirm something. Then he dismounted with a 'wow' sound, his cloak being dragged forward as he advanced with one hand on the hilt of his sword.
Seeing Brendel like this, Freya was forced to smooth out her enraged look as she was somewhat unsure what Brendel was doing. Dead leaves rustled as she watched him walk to a nearby tree. Naturally, she did not recognize the trees by their scientific names - those convoluted denominations were buried amongst the exhaustive and cumbersome literature of scholars - , but she knew of what Aouine’s mountain folk commonly referred to these trees with dark, sunken trunks as: Ghost Trees. "Brendel, what are you... looking at?"
Brendel looked up at the ebony branches. These trees were very familiar to him, and as if he was seeing them again after many long years of separation, there was a faint sense of affection. He thought about some things in silence. Some events of the past he could no longer remember, but his memories were still like shimmering fragments, occasionally flashing in his thoughts as if he were picking up shells in a sea of sand.
He averted his eyes. He found a giant grayish-white rock not far from where he remembered it. This rock was like a giant egg, slanted and buried halfway in the ground. His gaze inched upward along the pitted surface of the rock, stopping once with each upward movement. After the third time, he saw acrack that looked like a bifurcated star.
Only then did he reply, "Nothing, we're here, Freya."
"Here?" Freya could not help but look up and around. Half the afternoon had passed; the light in the mountain forest grew greyer and greyer, and all she could see was a canopy of dark green and sunken trees. An empty space of twisted tree trunks and intertwined, tangled roots - the forest looked more like a semi-enclosed cave from this angle, with interlocking tunnels leading in every direction.
Unlike in the rest of Trentheim, the black coniferous forests common to Grinoire and Radner were less common in the Grahar Mountains, but the Grahar Mountains were still covered with vast expanses of evergreen broadleaf forest as if a mysterious magic was nourishing the ancient groves from deep within the earth.
"What is this place?"
"This should be on the border of the Black Forest in this direction," Brendel stepped forward a few paces and cleared a large shrub. He found that they were almost at the top of the mountain, then looked eastward. Black ridges pierced the clouds, mist drifting from north to south. The mountains like the backs of looming dragons. Stretching his hands, he pointed in that direction and said, "To the east is the Long Song Forest. Right there - you should have heard of it, right?"
"The Mountains of Chablis?" Freya asked curiously. The Mountains of Chablis were a famous landmark in the southern part of Aouine, and the scenic Long Song Forest had always been a place travelers wanted to visit, so even in Bucce she had heard about it.
"Well, yes," Brendel confirmed as he nodded, "but more precisely, it should be the exact junction of the Tursankard Forest and the Long Song Forest. The Fortress of the Fangs is located in that direction; it is the southern border of Aouine."
After saying that, he stared towards that direction in silence. Amid the clouds and mist was avast, mountainous land, the Black Forest scattered amongst its rocky slopes. Triumphing over such terrain was the rarest victory for explorers - any player would be struck with a million ambitions in front of such a sight. It was like a sailor conquering the treacherous sea.
“But why do we need to come here? …...Brendel, what are you up to?” The female knight did not understand why Brendel would bring her to such a deserted area. But as she saw Brendel taking off his cloak and coat and walked towards her, she jumped and subconsciously pressed her hands against her sword, staring at him anxiously.
Brendel stopped, and looked at her somewhat baffled, “What are you thinking?”
“Y-You, why are you taking off your clothes?”
“Of course it’s because I’m preparing to climb down from here, what have you been thinking,” Brendel replied. “Am I so unreliable for you to not trust me? Come here and help me hold my clothes - and wait for me here, idiot.”
Freya's face turned red as she tried to brush off her embarassment and she lowered her head as if to find a crack in the floor to hide in. But upon hearing Brendel's request, the valkyrie hesitated for a moment before she unbuckled various leather straps and climbed down from her horse. If she were to dismount at such speed in a knight’s academy, she would probably get a negative score on her riding test. Only then did she take the jacket from Brendel's hand, still trembling slightly from humiliation.
"...Where are you, where are you going down to?" She froze with his garments in her hands and asked as carefully as a clumsy maid.
"You'll know in a moment."
Brendel replied. She looked up to see him walking to one side of the mountain path, dragging a rope from his horse's pack and tying it to the 'Ghost Tree' from before. He let go of the rope little by little and slowly walked towards the edge of the cliff wall, looked down for a second or two, and dropped the second half of the rope in one hand.
"Brendel, what's down there?" The valkyrie froze slightly, finally realizing what Brendel was up to.
Brendel looked up at her. Putting a finger to his lips he shook his head at the young woman from the countryside of Bucce, then he grabbed the rope with one hand and plunged downward -
Freya could not help but cry out in a low voice.
The cold wind above the cliff caused him to squint his eyes, and - after his eyes adjusted and he became able to distinguish the scene in front of him - he felt that the clouds below the cliff were getting closer to him, just like the illusion of being close to the water’s surface when diving.
Then, with a cry, he felt himself falling into the clouds and mist. Brendel hurriedly grasped some rope, pulling with his strength of the Golden Rank. Naturally, he did not need to climb down the rope bit by bit, but the last time he came to this place was at least ten years ago. Going by the game’s timeline, he hadn’t been here for nearly a hundred years, so he was afraid he might have misremembered the location and brought the rope as insurance.
After all, without Elemental Activation, he was unable to soar through the skies yet.
Brendel stared at the mountain wall. In mere seconds, a platform protruded outward, emerging from a shrub to seep past his line of sight. He reacted quickly, and the rope in his hand immediately went taut tight with a 'snap'. The powerful counter-force yanked him around in mid-air, and the rope carried a burnt smell, but Brendel didn't feel a single difference from his hands.
His Golden Rank physique was already beyond what a normal person could imagine.
He lifted his head to look up. The platform was not much different from his memories, just over ten meters away from him. Brendel gently swung close to the mountain wall, then grabbed the sharp edges of the rock face began climbing up it like a monkey.
The overgrown platform was almost exactly as he remembered it. Brendel glancedaround; the rock jutting out from halfway up the mountain looked to be about the size of half a basketball court. But it was actually much wider, except that the dense trees and vines obscured most of the view. He pinpointed the correct direction and carefully followed the path in his memory, then ripped apart the thick, intertwined vines.
Brendel didn’t use much strength to rip away the dead branches and leaves. With a clatter, accompanied by the sound of earth rustling and rolling down the cliffside, a conical slab of stone was revealed. This stone slab was almost as tall as him. It was about two people wide, somewhat like the Wisdom Statues that were common in forests everywhere. But instead of the image of Misokai, the weaver of magic and storms, a black moon, was drawn on it.
The Moon of Silence: the seventh moon of Aouine. The lightless moon could not be observed when studying the night sky, but was recorded in historical records.
Wordlessly, Brendel cleared the platform of vines and in turnrevealed eleven other similar monoliths buried underneath soil and decaying leaves. On each monolith, there was a moon representing the source of ever-flowing destiny and magic above Aouine's skies.
This place was the Hall of Fate.
Players knew it by another name: the transit station.
Brendel had done his research, and these monoliths were all built by people even older than the Miirna. Their purpose seemed to be to stabilize the original Marsha's Law of Tiamat. Across the entirety Vaunte, these monoliths existed in manyplaces but were built in mysterious spots.
For example, the one in Trentheim was built on the border of the Black Forest of the Grahar Mountains and had been buried for an unknown number of years. However, when Brendel went to these places in the middle of the game, these monoliths had already been cleared by the players in front of them, so there was no need to waste so much time on them like he did today.
He carefully examined the thin veins on the ground in the center of the monoliths, then raised his head and followed them to the center of the platform. These metallic, glowing runic lines and veins felt extremely similar to him, closely resembling the Energy Transfer Array he had seen underneath Valhalla. The array, formed by intricate runic markers, seemed to be from an ancient civilization..
For a split second, such a doubt passed through Brendel’s mind. Only then did he gather his thoughts and walk towards the center of the platform, although these monoliths held all sorts of secrets in Vaunte, in the game they only had one function.
In the game known as “The Amber Sword”, these lunar monoliths had allowed players to receive their personal quests to unlock Elemental Activation.