Past the province of Grinoires and to the north of its capital, Kurkle Castle, was the intersection between it, Lantonilan, and Viero. Since its construction for Count Harding during the Year of Chaos, Shallow Water Town has quietly sat next to the western shores of Lake Vallendaren for centuries .
The Needleleaf Forest that extended southward from Grinoires looked quite different here. Groves of cedar trees were scattered throughout the forest and though it was almost summer, frost still fell down from the crown of the trees as the caravan passed through the main path of the forest.
The closer they got to Shallow Water Town, the more obvious the signs of what the folks to the north of Viero called ‘late spring’ were. The stifling hot summer was nowhere to be seen here; rather, the signs of the earth awakening never seemed to arrive.
The forest air still held the brittle chilliness found at the end of the winter months. The skies were so gray, as if the Highlander god in charge of the skies, Gyst, was stirring up a layer of limestone above the dark clouds. The dark skies made everyone’s chest feel stuffy. On horseback, Brendel looked up and saw the barren branches of the trees. Between the tree trunks, skinny twigs criss-crossed, looking like a dense spidernet reaching for the skies. The shoots coming in for the new year were still covered with a thin layer of fuzz. There were still a few withered leaves drooping under these new leaves. From a distance, they looked like dried up cocoons waving in the bitterly cold wind.
But this was not the Month of Rejuvenation. This was a scene they saw in the middle of August, a month in the middle of hot summers.
Everyone oohed and ahhed at the strange sight. The calendar clearly indicated this was the Month of Flowing Fire, but the place looked like it was still in the middle of turning from winter to spring. Filas rode at the front of the team and said in admiration, “Is such a scene due to that so-called Stained Frost Forest Labyrinth?”
His loud voice repeatedly echoed throughout the forest and startled a gray deer. This upset the guides walking ahead of them. Legend has it that if you angered the holy spirits in the forest who enjoyed peace and quiet, misfortunes would befall you. But these sons and daughters of noblemen were always so reckless.
However, these local hunters wouldn’t bother arguing with the nobles over something like this. so the entire journey passed more or less peacefully.
Filas had finally shaken free from his status as a prisoner of war. This lucky Kirlutzzian knight had just about died from boredom during his ten odd days in the prison, but he didn’t mind the experience and considered it all a misunderstanding. His magnanimous personality won over everyone and therefore, he was considered an honored guest as soon he was let out of prison.
On the other hand, Lady Delphine was more stubborn though she didn’t end up in the water prisons. Persuaded by Freya, or perhaps trying to avoid making enemies of everyone, Amandina quietly locked the daughter of the Prime Minister in the dark prisons, a few levels above the water prisons, keeping her separate from the other prisoners.
A week later, emissaries from Lady Veronica took her away. But before she left, not only did Lady Delphine exhibit no signs of regret, she actually cursed at Brendel.
Brendel really had nothing to say to a stubborn fool like her. He could only let Veronica deal with her. If that lady of the battalions was smart enough, he reckoned she’d send Delphine back to Kirrlutz as soon as possible.
Filas scanned his surroundings and tightened his grip on the reins to stop his horse. He turned around and saked, “Count, how far is it from here to the Stained Frost Forest Labyrinth ?”
Laurenna frowned and answered before Brendel did, “Pretty far. I checked the map and we still have at least a week left.”
“That far!” Filas declared in surprise. “So in terms of our travels, it’s about the distance between the Flowerleaf Ranges and the Alfalfa Wilderness, right? So this is like the weird changes happening in the Four Leaf Clover Forests having the ability to influence that guy Faina?” He made an awkward comparison and then sighed. “To have an influence on the weather at this distance... Does that mean the trees in the middle of the Stained Frost Forest Labyrinth have all turned to ice crystals?”
“More or less,” Brendel answered. Though he’s only been to Stained Frost Forest Labyrinth once, the visit had left a deep impression on him. Adding the extensive walkthroughs he read meant that he could just barely call himself knowledgeable about the place.
Though the name of the Stained Frost Forest Labyrinth Maze contained the word “Forest”, it was actually a glacier inside. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it an ice cave. The ice monsters that came out of there were more numerous than what he had seen in Sanorso or Fernezain combined.
“That’s frightening.” Filas couldn’t help but shiver. “Does that mean we have to dive head-first into that frozen forest? Are we not stopping by along the way to buy some garments to ward off the cold?”
“We’ve got those, Mister Filas.” Medissa rode on the unicorn behind Brendel, smiling as she answered. She used her gaze to indicate the only loaded carriage in their procession, which was piled with supplies.
The little prince was directed to escort that cart of supplies and he ran around the carriage, helping the hired cart drivers work on keeping the horse cart steady along the pothole-riddled path. Everyone listened as he fretted over the four thick-furred dwarf horses with his clear voice, but the four beasts couldn’t care less about him and simply stared at him with disdain in their eyes.
The scene made everyone laugh but also feel sympathetic.
Luckily, Haruz was getting used to this. He lifted his head and wiped at the sweat on his reddened face. He wore a brand new set of leather armor and carried his longsword on his back, looking just like a young knight doing his apprenticeship with a noble family. There was no trace of the young prince dressed in silken gowns before.
“Oh, now I remember.” Filas came to a realization and nodded while he murmured to himself.
“Filas.” Brendel turned around then and asked, “Does your hometown participate in winter hunts? I heard that the area around Barrano is the best developed region of the Empire and that Pesa and Flourir are key commerce towns. Forests like this must be rare on the land under your father’s rule, yes?”
“Count Trentheim, you are certainly knowledgeable.” Count Trentheim immediately scored a few points with Filas when he heard the count bring up his hometown - even more so when Brendel got things right and clearly understood the geography and culture of his hometown. Filas warmed up to the topic and declared, “That’s right, but it’s not like I haven’t participated in winter hunts before. There were a few times when my father and I visited Flowerleaf Range on invitation and participated in some of the winter hunts that Duke Flowerleaf organized. After all, winter hunts are important for nobles. They’re part of tradition and also an important social event. It was during one of them that I met Laurenna-”
“So that’s what happened.” Brendel looked at the blushing female knight next to him and knew that Filas spoke the truth. He sighed mentally - childhood sweethearts. No wonder Filas beat every other challenger and brought home the girl. Plus, the guy didn’t have too bad of a personality. You could even say he had some personal charm, at least compared to the other noble sons. No wonder Laurenna chose him.
He nodded, still astride his horse, and then pretended to say nonchalantly, “Then, Mister Filas, you can just pretend this is a hunt. We’re just after more dangerous prey.”
“Really?” Filas perked up. “Now that Your Lordship has said so, I seem to be more eager to give this a shot.”
“That’s great.” Brendel smiled slightly. Beside him, Ciel saw the smile on his Lord’s face and knew someone was about to be screwed over. He couldn’t help but look over at the young man in sympathy. “Then may I impose upon you? If Mister Filas doesn’t object, I would love to have you take the task of cleaning up after the battle and organizing the spoils.”
“Huh?” Filas looked hit over the head by good fortune. In noblemen etiquette, only the most respected guest had the first right to go after and divide up the prey. He never dreamed that the legendary leader held him in such high esteem - it probably wasn’t likely that the other feared his title since just half a month ago, Brendel hadn’t hesitated to throw him and the daughter of the Empire’s Prime Minister into jail. It was obvious that Count Trentheim didn’t feel the name of the Kirrlutz Empire was worth very much. However, it was precisely because of this difference in treatment that Filas answered, somewhat humbly, “Since Your Lordship is so kind, I would love nothing more than to fulfill the request.”
The young man was clearly still trying to wrap around the praise Brendel heaped upon him. He hadn’t even realized that he changed the term of address.
Laurenna looked at her fiance and couldn’t help but shake her head. She then looked up and thanked Brendel, “We very much appreciate your trust, Count Trentheim.”
“Don’t mention it.” Brendel responded back politely. He looked nonplussed on the surface, but he shook with laughter on the inside. He hadn’t brought this couple along because he wanted to meet up with Veronica or anything like that. At the root of it all, he was interested in their luck, which seemed to have been blessed by Marsha herself. In the face of the luckiest knight in Kirrlutz history, even Ferlam’s Red Palm seemed like no big deal. Besides, it seemed like his Wild Elf older sister wasn’t keen on helping him out now.
He could almost imagine a future where the riches would come rolling in. If Filas hadn’t been the true heir to a prince of Kirrlutz, Brendel almost had a mind to keep him around forever.
That’s not to say he didn’t entertain such a possibility right now.
The dialogue between Brendel and Filas livened up the atmosphere of the procession and the people talked more freely afterwards, but Brendel took note of an exception. He turned around. The caravan traveled along the path with clanking sounds and the bustling of people. The noon sun painted the entire forest in a dreamlike color. But among the people, Freya rode on a horse by herself at the edge of the procession, as if in a world by herself. She looked down and turned the stone tablet in her hands over and over.
It was a stone tablet that had been through some rough times. The dark yellow surface was pebbled, a little like the wind-blown granite found on the Kelimar Plains. On either side of the stone table was a mysterious symbol drawn in white paint. The paint itself looked like limestone dust, which faded easily, but wiping at the painting with hands proved otherwise. Aside from this, Freya didn’t find anything odd after examining the table for several days.
She didn’t know why Brendel gave her this stone table and said those weird things about this being hers or that she’d one day discover its secrets. However, it had been days and the stone tablet remained a mere stone tablet, without any changes at all. The young girl involuntarily furrowed her brow. She did contemplate whether this was another one of Brendel’s tricks - he seemed to like playing tricks on her.
The young girl from Bucce hesitated, but in the end she couldn’t bear to throw the stone tablet away. What if this was real? This was something Brendel personally gave to her and they had gone so far for it -- just the two of them.
Because of that, she awkwardly held the stone in her hands, lost in her thoughts to the point where she didn’t realize someone had approached her. Brendel lightly tapped the future War Goddess on her elbow and called out, “Freya?”
“Hmm?” The familiar voice jolted the young girl awake. She jumped. “Bre-Brendel! What is it?”
Brendel frowned and looked at the future War Goddess. Her panicked attitude didn’t fool anyone. “What are you thinking about?”
“I… I’m just trying to find out the secret of this stone. Brendel, just what is this?” Freya blushed faintly. She was too embarrassed to admit that her mind had gone where it shouldn’t, but luckily the former country girl could think on her feet. She hurriedly lifted the stone tablet in her hand and asked the question.
Brendel glanced at the tablet she was holding. This stone tablet was sometimes called the “Key” in certain scenarios in The Amber Sword. In truth, it was just a replica of the War Stone Tablet. These stone tablets had circulated since the times of the Miirna people, or even before then, and had been used to record information about the true War Stone Tablet.
However, some of them recorded ancient mysteries and some recorded history from before the War of the Holy Saints, or information about war or human culture. Players had discovered many such stone tablet fragments and a lot of the information about Tumen, Darkness Dragon, or the War of the Holy Saints had been decoded by the players through the words on those fragments.
The one he handed to Freya was just special.
In the game, this particular table had a deep connection to Freya.
In that turbulent time, the War Goddess, a title that represented an acknowledgement and praise of Freya’s power was not just something that the players awarded this to War Goddess. It wasn’t even a title bestowed upon her by the king. In fact, people from Kirlutzz to Sanorso to even Madara - her enemies - jointly gave her that title.
Of course this wasn’t entirely due to her personal charm; a large part of the reason was due to Freya’s mark of the War Goddess.
There was a seal in the shape of the holy fire upon her forehead. Every time the War Goddess was in danger or strained herself to her limits, it would appear along with the gigantic wings of light. In such a form, the War Goddess’s abilities would often increase exponentially.
The earliest occurence of this supposedly happened during a match at the Royal Calvary Academy. That was also one of the main reasons he insisted that Freya go to the Royal Calvary Academy. Since then, the mark of the War Goddess appeared more and more frequently. It clearly was an impossible task to keep that hidden after the battle that involved thousands, or even tens of thousands, of people.
In the original history, players announced that Freya first tapped into this power in the first battle against the north. After that battle, the title of the War Goddess followed her like a shadow. In addition, more players began to look for the secret hidden by the title.
The person to finally decode the mystery was the player who discovered this stone tablet. Brendel had now forgotten the player’s ID, but he clearly remembered the whole thing from beginning to end.
That happened sometime after the second War of the Black Roses. More and more replicas of the War Stone Tablet had been discovered and players voluntarily began to decrypt the words on the stone tablets. At the same time, the history of the War of the Holy Saints became clearer and clearer to everyone.
But the player who discovered this tablet in Trentheim decoded a wholly different record. It neither recorded a piece of history about the War of Holy Saints nor a description of a battle or a legend. Instead, it repeatedly mentioned the existence of a mark of the War Goddess.
At the end, the stone tablet subtly referenced the way to activate the lineage of the War Goddess.
At first, the player who discovered the stone table assumed it was an item for some mission to get a noble lineage. However, he tried everything he could think of and still couldn’t figure out the next step of the mission. Then, he finally recalled that Aouinian War Goddess. so he posted about his experience and the contents of the stone table on the forum. Soon after, someone bought the stone tablet with a lot of money and then it passed through several owners before it ended up with Freya.
Brendel remembered that it should have been the Year of Silver in the first century. Soon after, this Aouinian War Goddess mastered the ability to freely call forth her War Goddess mode.
Until she died in battle,
Though to be honest, Brendel himself didn’t know how to use this stone tablet. He only knew about its location and part of its later whereabouts from the rumors floating around on the internet.
But at least he was certain that this was it, and it would help Freya. He thought for a moment and asked, “Do you trust me, Freya?”
“I… Of course I trust you, Brendel.” Freya paused and then seemed to understand what Brendel was asking. She looked down at the stone tablet in her hands and then nodded in resignation. “I understand. I’ll put it somewhere safe.”
“Don’t think too much. Maybe you’ll naturally discover its secrets at a later point in time.” Brendel grabbed the reins and rode side by side with the War Goddess. When it came to Freya’s troubles, that was all he could offer in comfort.
“Brendel… you’re sounding more and more like Romaine’s aunt.”
“Why don’t you just say that I’m starting to sound more and more like a charlatan? I can accept that,” Brendel answered wearily.
Freya looked over at that and smiled lightly at him. “But this is great. You haven’t changed a bit since then. Sometimes I am so afraid that you’ll no longer be that Brendel, now that you’re a noble,” the young woman from the countryside turned around and said quietly.
“I didn’t change, but you did.” Brendel nodded. “You’ve matured.”
“H-how?” The War Goddess blushed.
“You wouldn’t have said something like this before. Back then you probably would have said something like, ‘Brendel, how come you’ve become so strange!’”
“Brendel… you… you’re being too much...”