Brendel stayed quiet. Of course Duke Arrek would be coming; this was his show after all. He was going to assassinate Princess Gryphine because she was moving away from his influence and then get control over Prince Haruz so that he can control the court -- no, it should be Princess Bessidine here.
Brendel turned around to look at Haruz next to him. The little prince looked up at his sister from another dimension with a confused expression.
The princess’s expression was cold and distant. She looked at Haruz with a complicated gaze. “Bessidine, ever since you and I fled to Kinten Palance in the Year of Summer Blossoms and Leaves, you, me, and Aouine -- we’ve all been through so much. You’re a grown up now Bessidine, it’s time for you to take responsibility.”
Princess Gryphine lifted her hand to interrupt him. She turned around and instructed Brendel, “Viscount Cauldell, please give me a moment of privacy with Bessidine.”
Brendel thought for a moment. This was just a corner of the dream world and he wouldn’t be very effective staying here. The only way to leave this place would be to remedy Viscount Cauldell’s regret. He had to find more clues from the dreams. So he nodded and told Haruz, “Bessidine, you stay here. Her Royal Highness hasn’t seen you for a very long time. I’ll wait for you in the great hall outside.”
“Cauldell…” Haruz turned around to look at his teacher. His naive gaze was filled with panic and uneasiness, but Princess Gryphine interpreted that as an unwillingness to part with her lover. She shook her head almost imperceptibly and sighed quietly, “Let the Viscount be for a bit. You’ll have many years together, Bessidine.”
Haruz’s face turned red because of the misunderstanding. He was a boy after all! But he had no way of explaining that so he could only look pleadingly at Brendel while trying to say something coherent. Brendel sneakily gestured at him in the sign language of the Tree Elves -- Brendel knew that language in his past life and naturally taught it to his only student -- to remain here, collect information, and then meet up with him.
The little prince still looked uneasy, but he suddenly remembered the reason they were here when he saw Brendel’s gestures. He inhaled and finally calmed down. “She” nodded at him.
Brendel’s gaze landed on Princess Gryphine again, or rather the representation of her in his memory. He knew very well how much she meant to him. She had absolutely changed many people’s worldviews. The princess, already so capable of leading the kingdom, had a special kind of charisma about her. It reminded Brendel of the calm underneath the surface of a lake but with the power and resilience of the ocean. She stood there but was also distant from the world. She looked at the Kingdom with those calm and wise eyes. She had once spent her entire time reviving it from the dead but in the end, she could do nothing but watch as it was destroyed.
In the last moments of her life, the Crown Princess often contemplated things by herself. What was she thinking?
Regret? Nostalgia? Or was she logically trying to arrange everything that would happen afterwards?
The nobles that had once swarmed around her stood against her in the end. The only ones supporting here were like the players. It was the most ironic thing: the passersby in history would feel sentimental about a fake character.
But Her Royal Highness merely watched calmly as everything happened and quietly fulfilled her destiny. From the very beginning, she understood her fate as if she was simply reading a book with words. But she left a seed behind for Aouine. The weak and incapable princess grew up under the wings and fulfilled his responsibilities in the end.
This was the land that nutrued her. But she had grown up under the cold education of the nobility. What had caused her to try and unselfishly change everything? Was it just for an honorable ideal?
Brendel pursed his lips. Like the other players, he had no such ideals -- though King Erik’s dream had once inspired every player in Aouine.
The oath was passed from lip to lip. But did they really fight for those on the bottom of society? How many of them had the ideals of a revolutionary?
If it was impossible in reality, it wouldn’t be possible in the game either. The players were just tracing the outline of a romantic knight in their minds.
He was the same way. He had only come this far because of his admiration for the heroic arc and because of his special feelings towards Her Royal Highness and the War Goddess. He had never forgotten his intentions and was so careful so that he never mired himself in the sense of self-righteousness.
In the end, all he chased after was the promise he made with Bai Jia to explore the ends of the world. It was a tiny and maybe foolish wish.
But it was precisely because of that that those who could truly sacrifice themselves were so holy and worthy of respect. Brendel bowed deeply towards Her Royal Highness, a move that had nothing to do with his station in life or the role he was playing. It was just a gesture of respect for the person who believed that everything was good and innocent.
Then he turned around. He felt his past dissipate. That was a special kind of feeling, as if he had finally put down a weight he was carrying. The past was in the past; only the bright new future remained.
Brendel walked out to the garden, feeling both calm and solemn, only to find Black Tea waiting for him out there.
Black Tea straightened up from the column she leaned against when she spotted him. “I knew you’d step out, Viscount Cauldell.”
“You were waiting for me?”
“I thought the princess might want to talk to her sister. They haven’t seen each other for so long. Her Royal Highness didn’t tell anyone that Princess Bessdine would be here. Nobody except for us knows!” Black Tea giggled and answered with a tiny bit of gloating in her voice. She acted just as Brendel remembered.
“Her Royal Highness trusts you very much.”
“That’s because we’re worthy of that trust -- almost all the nobles are siding with Duke Arrek. They hope Her Royal HIghness will stop her reforms because, at the bottom of it, those reforms are damaging their privileges.” Black Tea let out a dissatisfied snort.
This part of the history was so similar, almost identical with what Brendel remembered. But he was more concerned about another answer. He asked, “But no matter what kind of reform, it would benefit those at the very bottom of society. There must be people who support Her Royal Highness.”
“Them?” The young girl gritted her teeth. “If those people were really dependable, why would Her Royal Highness be stuck in this situation? Her Royal Highness is willing to sacrifice herself for them, but would anyone give up their life for her?”
That was a familiar tune. Hadn’t he thought so too, once upon a time? No, maybe this was his subconscious thought, just spoken through Black Tea’s mouth. But why was it like this? Was it really because people were inherently selfish, just like what Black Tea proclaimed so angrily? He had been disappointed because of that and left the still smoldering Aouine. He had traveled northward, but that had just been wandering around in the game-world like a lost ghost.
But this time, Brendel hesitated before answering, “Maybe they have their reasons.”
Black Tea heard his answer and looked up to examine him closely. She squinted her eyes and looked like a feline about to pounce on prey. “But you don’t really think that, do you?”
The young girl smiled slightly and said, a bit mysteriously, “Because I see how lost you are by the look in your eyes. Also, you are just like us. You might be an NPC, but I can smell the same scent on you as I do on us.”
“You are just like us. You might be an NPC, but I can smell the same scent on you as I do on us.”
That didn’t come from Black Tea. She wasn’t that smart. That was from his own mind. No, not only that. That was also part of Caudell’s self-questioning. Brendel thought he vaguely grasped something -- what was the knight, who had lost his name and memory, truly asking of him?
The two walked into the great hall, where the ball was being held. As part of the security detail in charge of the Kinten Palace and as someone trusted absolutely by the reigning princess, Scarlet Travelers could walk among the attendees without any trouble. As for Brendel, he was on the list of invited guests.
In the center of the ball was a giant dance floor. Countless nobles gathered along the dance floor and chatted in groups of two or three. They only socialized with their own circles, though they occasionally ventured to greet guesses they knew or have met only once before. Balls were an important way for the nobles to communicate with each other. Many enemies and friends were made during balls such as these.
A humongous and glorious chandelier lit up the great hall. Everything Brendel saw spoke of opulence, as if you could not see a hint of the dying empire in these lights. But he had seen all of this before and this was just revisiting the same grounds.
He wandered aimlessly through the crowd, subconsciously trying to find Arrek and the hidden assassin under his command. In reality, Arrek had caused him a great deal of headache. He had never thought that Arrek would continue to be his enemy in the dream world. To Brendel, this guy was the embodiment of evil.
But Brendel also paid attention to every detail around him. Cauldell’s memory was scattered within this dream world and any tiny detail could inspire him to remember something about his past and thereby change the scenery in the dream. His efforts were not wasted. Very quickly, he found some differences.
The clock in the middle of the great hall indicated that it was around 8 in the evening. That meant there was a two hour difference between the ball in his memories and the one in the dream; looking out from the French windows on the northside of the Kinten Palace, Brendel should be seeing groups of buildings and patches of the garden. Instead, Brendel stood there and saw only a dense forest and pitch-black skies.
There seemed to be traces of blood in the air and the vague stink of something becoming burnt.
The time on the clock, the forest outside the window that didn’t match what he remembered, and the weirdness in the air. Brendel guessed that these could all be memories from Viscount Cauldell from when he was alive. He could find these fragments of memory, which meant these were important to him and left a deep impression on him. So Brendel silently remembered these points.
Then he took a step back but bumped into someone unexpectedly.
“Ow.” A childish voice sounded. Brendel felt the person’s head strike his waist. That sounded like a child. He determined that the other person was carrying a plate of food since he heard the sound of cutlery falling onto the ground.