By the time Brendel and Maynild returned to their campground, it was early morning. The dawn was breaking and the stars were fading. The horizon line turned a pale shade of whtie. A line of gold appeared on the surface of the lake and the first strand of morning light emerged from under the lake.
As the two walked out from the forest, they heard a cry of joy. “Maynild, Brendel!”
Brendel raised his head when he heard the voice. Freya sat on a tall rock, bathed in the morning light. She saw them first. She had both hands around her knees and only rubbed her reddened eyes when she caught sight of them. She looked like she hadn’t slept a wink the night before, but her worried face finally relaxed.
He smiled slightly though his mind was clearly still trying to process everything that happened the night before. But he felt a sense of warm familiarity when he caught sight of the girl from Bucce.
“Your turn to stand guard again?”
Freya jumped down from the rock with an unnatural expression on her face. She was too embarrassed to say it was because she was worried. She nodded and made a sound of agreement, but that didn’t fool Maynild who gave her a look.
The young girl’s face reddened and she looked around Brendel. “Were you successful?
Everyone knew that Brendel and Maynild went into the forest to hunt the Crystal Stag. Though the majority of them hadn’t even heard of the existence of the Crystal Stag, she was still curious about the fact that he had returned empty-handed.
To Freya, there was nothing that Brendel couldn’t do. In her mind, he was the one who randomly set up a back-up militia in Bucce and also the nobleman who led everyone to victory despite all the hardships. After that, he became the leader of Trentheim and helped her royal highness defeat Duke Arrak and Duke Seifer.
Now he stood before her as Count Trentheim. He had already become someone with power in Aouine. Even Sir Makarov or Baron Oberwei, the men who had seemed so unapproachable to her before, didn’t dare call themselves superior in front of him.
The princess trusted him and there were rumors swirling about outside that he was a new noble in the kingdom, a future force of power. But Brendel never acted pretentiously in front of her and made her feel like the distance between them wasn’t so great.
But she still wasn’t satisfied -- didn’t this guy know he was already a count? In her mind, a count should be serious and unsmiling. So when she saw him act so casually, she couldn’t help but get angry. But she immediately softened and comforted, “Don’t worry. I think there’s still a chance -- I, I looked at the map and it’ll take us a couple more days to get through Anserra Forest.”
Brendel saw the future Lady War Goddess lose her ability to speak in front of and couldn’t help but laugh. “What are you thinking? Did I tell you that we weren’t successful?”
“Ah?” Freya was immediately stunned into silence.
Brendel especially enjoyed seeing the future War Goddess stare at him blankly with her mouth open in shock. He continued with a smile, “Do you know why I went to hunt the Crystal Stag?”
Freya shook her head. How would she know? Nobles liked to hunt, though she thought it was a wasteful hobby. But activities like the winter hunt near Grinoires did have practically nothing to do with the regular citizens of Bucce.
Brendel smiled slightly. He had a mind to surprise this foolish young lady. So he stretched out his hands, palm up. A strand of silver flame rose along the lines on his palm and wove upwards. The silver flames were like thin strands of thread that wove themselves together into a beautiful spiral.
Freya couldn’t help but stare wide-eyed at the sight. She was no longer the country bumpkin who didn’t know anything. Before the War of the Black Roses happened, the most powerful person in her mind were the cavalry scouts. In those stories, the cavalry scouts could be on equal footing with Madara’s Pale Cavalry. The stories of fascinating battles and roundabout battle strategy stirred the audience up every time.
But she realized later that the best soldiers in that group only had the skills of a Peak Iron Rank. Even Leader’s knight guards were only at the Platinum Rank, which was about her level right now. In just a half a year, she was already one step closer to the people she had admired back then.
She heard that at the end of this fall, her royal highness will personally knight her cohort of squires. Before this, Freya never even dreamed that one day she’d live to become a noble.
But all of that didn’t give her as much shock as this moment did.
Because the silver flame burning on Brendel’s palm wasn’t a random thing; it was the ember of Law, the Lines of Laws. In the world of Warndt, anyone who could get through elemental activation was seen as having crossed the boundaries of mortals and stepped onto the path towards the saints and truth.
Without exception, these people left their mark on history.
But Brendel is only 21.
“Brendel, this…” Freya frowned slightly. Her expression contained joy for Brendel but also worried. She was worried that Brendel seemed to have taken a step forward while she remained where she was. She worried that one day she wouldn’t be able to keep up with him and would be left behind.
Though Brendel had said before that he would wait for her, how long would he wait? She also remembered that he said he couldn’t wait for her to move forward forever. In that moment, Freya’s emotions turned into a jumbled mess.
Brendel didn’t seem to realize the hesitation in the young girl from Bucce. He merely nodded encouragingly at her.
“You really did go through elemental activation.. But you… I remember those heroes in A History of Aouine… Duke Urano, Leader of the Thorns …” Freya looked at him in a daze, as if someone who surpassed the heroes in history appeared in front of him. She couldn’t seem to wrap her head around it. “Even, even your grandfather Darius wasn’t so young when he went through elemental activation…”
“Even if you go further back there won’t be anyone, Freya --” Brendel interrupted her.
The young man’s confident, and even somewhat arrogant, words made Freya pause. In the young girl’s memory, the Brendel she knew had never acted this haughty.
In the not-so-far distance, Laurenna and her fiance Filas walked out from the campground. They halted their footsteps when they saw the scene in front of him. Both of their gazes landed on Brendel.
Out of everyone, only Maynild glanced calmly at Brendel.
Brendel looked at Freya and didn’t answer. But the words in his heart seemed like they had been there forever. “King Erik built Aouine. At that time, he needed to protect this kingdom. His enemy was Kirrlutz or maybe the Wind Elves from Sanorso --”
Everyone who gathered under that glorious banner became a part of that battle. Everything that the ancient nobles won was underneath their feet.
But now, Aouine had suffered too much. Maybe he, like Maynild, had a strange dream -- he saw the decaying kingdom fall into the abyss. He saw her citizens fight to the death and were still left standing empty-handed.
As if touched by his gaze, Maynild shifted her body uneasily. She furrowed her slender eyebrows.
But Brendel’s gaze moved past her and past Lake Vallendaren. He looked toward the distant south, where an empire born of blackness was slowly rising. This war would become a catalyst. Once the ruthless emperor cleared away the last of the stumbling blocks, its staff would be pointed towards Aouine next.
The great demonic wave would become unstoppable. What the Crystal Stag Maloucha saw was just the tip of the iceberg. All the darkness in the world was biding their time and the real chaos would descend upon the world after Eternal Night.
What Aouine would do at that time is something the history books didn’t record. But just this once, he wanted a more worthwhile sacrifice for those who fought against destiny. If history would forget those anonymous heroes, he would change history.
He suddenly realized that this was his calling. He had come to this world not to live anonymously, or to be a spectator once again. It was enough to experience some regrets just once. He drew his gaze back and suddenly realized what Marsha meant. There is value to sacrifice, which came from someone’s aspirations and ideals. They might fail but they would influence and change the world.
Turns out that kind of influence had stuck around in his heart.
King Erik hadn’t wanted to change the arrogance of the nobles; what he wanted to change -- was history itself.
Brendel smiled at Freya. “You’ll understand. Go wake the others, we should head out.” He kept the last sentence to himself -- Lady War Goddess.
Freya looked at him dubiously. As she turned around she seemed to have an epiphany. She looked back and gave Brendel another glance. “Brendel… can I, can I keep up with you?”
Brendel looked at the experience crystal in the Circlet of Convenience and nodded at her.
“Someone who believes will not fall behind.”
Freya paused and then nodded firmly. She suddenly remembered that her belief was like the wild flowers that bloomed in the Bucce countryside -- ordinary but stubborn, unable to be killed even by the summer wildfires. These flowers bloomed among the mountains of Yulsong and left a deep impression on anyone.
The girl’s desire was just as ordinary. She wanted to protect everyone and make sure the memories of the peaceful and beautiful times were not tainted by the flames of war.
Brendel watched the girl from the Bucce turn around and leave. He looked back to see Laurenna and Filas standing to the side. The female knight watched him with an admiring gaze.
“Mister Brendel, ‘someone who believes will not fall behind’ - do you mean that?” Her eyes shone and she asked loudly.
“If you are firm, why would you back off?” Brendel asked casually.
“But reality is not perfect.”
“That’s why some people will be called heroes.”
“Do you think you’re a hero, Mister Brendel?” Brendel’s meaning was so straightforward it startled the female knight.
“If that’s a wonderful thing to be, why not aspire to be it?”
“So that’s why --” Laurenna frowned slightly.
“But I’d rather be the devil king -- “Brendel continued answering.
The female knight hesitated and looked at him.
“Because sometimes you have to fight against the whole world.”
Laurenna inhaled deeply and nodded at him respectfully. “I hope you never change, Count Trentheim.” Then she murmured quietly, as if to herself, “I hope I also don’t change --”
The news that Brendel had finished elemental activation finally spread throughout the caravan. Before, Brendel’s talent with the sword could be said to have Sword Saint potential, but now he could finally be called a true Sword Saint.
Aouine finally had a second Sword Saint a hundred years after Darius, the last Sword Saint, retreated into seclusion. A young Sword Saint. Brendel’s authority, especially among the guards, seemed to reach the top immediately.
Brendel once jokingly mentioned his appellation. Just like “Trendsetter” Garlock or Fiery Nicholas, a Sword Saint with elemental activation had the right to an appellation of respect.
But Maynild simply reminded him that after the battle at Ampere Seale, he already had a well-known title.
On Duke Arrek’s gaunt face, his deep-set eyes were tired but still sharp. They quietly examined the parchment map in his hands, but his mind kept turning that name over and over.
The information he got over the last few months were enough for him to learn about the key person behind the failure of the entire Ampere Seale plan. This head of bandits from Trentheim had been a nobody until Fortress Riedon; then his star seemed to be on a meteoric rise.
His opponent’s tactics seemed vulgar and brutish, as if he was your average bandit. The nobles wouldn’t deign to give them a single glance. The northern nobles even jokingly called the new leader of Trentheim a crass nouveau riche.
In private, many envied him for his luck.
But Duke Arreck didn’t think so. How naive could the grandson of Sword Saint Darius be? He had once met the Sword Saint himself and to this day, his heart still chilled when thinking about the impression the Sword Saint left him.
Plus he has already noticed some details. That Count Trentheim seemed to
A classic example would be --
This time, he was right behind them again.
Duke Arrek frowned. The sounds of an argument came from the distance. He looked up and the shapely female knight seemed to sense the displeasure of the person who had once been a bigshot among the upper ranks of Aouine nobles. She hurriedly murmured an explanation, “The hunters don’t seem willing to go further --”
“They still believe the Stained Frost Forest Labyrinth has a wicked curse. Such fools.” The female knight added.
Arrek frowned and answered dismissively, “Devard disappoints me. We just need one person to show the way.”
Sylvia paused and then realization hit her. She lowered her head and answered obediently, “I understand, sir.”
The Silver Knight looked towards the forest and had to shake her head -- some people don’t know what’s good for them.