Brendel and Her Royal Highness were still standing by the door and blood splattered against their faces to various degrees. The princess looked at Brendel’s blood-covered features and asked, “Viscount Cauldell, are you really willing to give up everything for Bessidine?”
No, everything else could be a reason, but Brendel swore that this had nothing to do with that. He turned around and saw that, in the nearby distance, Haruz was blushing to the tips of his ears because of what his sister said. Brendel sighed and answered, “Princess, I don’t think this is the time to declare my intentions… if I can, I will naturally take care of her highness. But the priority right now is to get out of here.”
But Princess Gryphine looked at him and shook her head. “You don’t understand. I am the knot that must be snipped off. If I don’t die, the conflict between the nobles and Arreck will never come to light and the kingdom will just fall further into decay, day by day, until one day it is consumed by fire --
“I tied the knot and I must be the one to release it. I am only worried about whether Bessidine can distinguish the people around her. I hope you can give me a clear answer, Viscount Cauldell.”
In history, there had been a rumor that Princess Gryphine had secretly reached out to the Wind Elves in order to counter Arreck. She sent a secret missive with the Elven emissaries, but the news leaked and stirred up the powerful duke’s wish for murder. Very soon after, on a ball very much like tonight’s ball, Arreck ordered an assassin to kill Her Royal Highness and then blamed the murder on Madara.
But afterwards nobody could find any evidence -- except for that empty letter.
The secret missive the princess sent with the emissaries was blank. Some suspected that this was a trick from Kirrlutz and it was true that, after the assassination, investigations revealed that Kirrlutz was invovled. Even the Holy Cathedral of Fire wasn’t completely innocent.
But Brendel suddenly thought of another version of the truth.
“The blank letter that the Wind Elf emissaries brought back to elven courts was your plan to force Arreck’s hand, wasn’t it Princess?”
Princess Gryphine looked at him in slight surprise, “How did you know? Arreck already knows? No, no way. If he knew he wouldn’t choose to act --”
Brendel remained silent.
Arreck had been played.
The Acting Monarch, Her Royal Highness, used her death to set a trap for the sly old fox. Everything did happen exactly as she had predicted: Aouine broke out into civil war, the third War of the Black Roses, Haruz marrying Ellara, and the formation of the resistance forces in Aouine.
But he didn’t feel relieved, just furious. The Princess didn’t just play Arrek, she also fooled every player who supported her. He will never forget the night Monsterros sank into a sea of fire.
Or the dejected look on Bai Jia’s face as she left.
He stared at the princess and had a hard time figuring out whether what she was was true. Because this was actually his memory.
But Brendel calmly suppressed all the negative feelings in his heart, because negative emotions in dreams would lead to getting lost. The pale ghosts hiding in the darkness controlled people’s emotions so that they would get lost in the thing that made them feel out of control.
Nobody knew this better than Brendel.
He asked this in order to test Viscount Cauldell’s feelings. Just like he understood that everything being reenacted in the dream meant Cauldell must have gone through the same situation. In other words, Viscount Cauldell must have just been as confused as he was.
The information on the walkthrough is now completely useless.
Brendel tossed it aside. It’s not like he was stuck without the walkthrough. First of all, he was an excellent player. Second of all, he had firmer passions. If he couldn’t defend then he would start attacking.
First, he needed to answer one of his own questions: How did Viscount Cauldell respond to his confusion back then?
And how would he respond?
Brendel thought deeply for a while and then told Princess Gryphine, “Sometimes the correct choice isn’t always the really correct one, Princess.”
“Then what counts as correct?” The Crown Princess raised her head and looked at him quizzically. She seemed to understand there was a hidden layer of meaning to the Viscount’s words.
The same question rang out in Brendel’s heart. That was Viscount Cauldell’s repeated demands: Which choice exactly counts as the correct one?
Brendel raised his head and looked downwards. The red and white robed soldiers were struggling to climb up from the great hall filled with smoke and dust. He backed into the room and also pulled the princess back a bit.
Then he sighed lightly, as if confirming his own beliefs, and answered:
“One cannot always be selfish, but some selfishness can be forgiven --”
When he answered, he felt his emotions move slightly.
That was the motion belonging to Viscount Cauldell.
This pale phantom, who had always kept himself hidden in the dark, the knight who had lost his name to the fog of history, finally couldn’t hold himself back any longer.
And his move allowed Brendel to finally confirm the answer to his own question.
Found it --
The answer to the puzzle.
A person’s dream is actually just a subconscious hint to themselves. In a short period of time, Brendel remembered, more than once, his parents attending the ball, and his childhood self. These hinted that his past surrounded him like a nightmare. But it wasn’t until a certain point when he suddenly realized that those were actually not the mysterious beings in the fog that were tempting him into losing his sanity.
In contrast, what was hidden the deepest inside a person’s heart, is the catalyst for their own self-salvation.
It was the same for Viscount Cauldell.
Time and time again, he remembered the dreams he had about Brendel’s grandfather’s illusions at the Magical Golden Tree. Time and time again, he remembered his parents looking at him with disappointment. Though he broke out in cold sweat, he finally realized this:
That disappointment didn’t come from his failure.
Selfishness can be forgiven.
But running away and becoming afraid of yourself cannot be. In fact, losing one’s courage to challenge again because of one defeat was like a weak person grasping a sword tightly in their hands yet refusing to step forward and piercing the illusion.
He was the conflicted one with the sword.
That person had also been Viscount Cauldell.
He could have stabbed Princess Gryphine. That might have been Viscount Cauldell’s wish, but Brendel finally realized it was not his.
If he had chosen that, chosen to compromise, it’d be like a person losing their courage and losing their determination to break the illusion. Someone who has lost the determination to break the illusion could only remain forever in the dreams.
Only at this moment did Brendel’s heart confirm that, just like when he felt his Viscount Cauldell’s emotions move in his heart.
He could finally experience that emotion, which was fear and terror, the feeling of being lost and the feeling of jealousy. Because he had done the complete opposite of what Brendel did.
Cauldell had chosen to compromise and so was stuck in his own fragmented dream.
But Brendel’s choice was to selfishly change everything, selfishly follow his own heart, selfishly follow his ideals and beliefs.
If giving up is defeat --
Brendel seemed to see a pitiful figure flash before his eyes. He grasped his sword and the belief in his heart had never been firmer than at that moment. In front of him, the corridor started collapsing layer by layer and the scenery seemed to melt into heavy fog. When the fog parted, Kinten Palace was like a collapsing sand dune, vanishing on the wind along with the bodies of the soldiers and nobles. Brendel even saw his own parents and his childhood self among the sand-dunes. The faces of Bai Jia and everyone in the Scarlet Travelers melted into the fog as they backed into it and gradually faded away.
But the last glance remained forever in his memory.
There were only Princess Gryphine, Haruz, the two knights and that elderly handmaiden next to him. Her Royal Highness didn’t seem to sense the changes around her. She walked steadily forward, holding Haruz’s hand.
The little prince seemed to now completely understand what his sister was thinking. Though he couldn’t understand what that kind of sacrifice meant, the history that happened in the dream became a heavy nightmare for him. Haruz bit his lip and tears welled up in his eyes, though he didn’t cry.
Many many years ago, when he still remembered the starry summer skies at Kinten Palace and his father the king had been alive, he remembered his sister telling him: boys shouldn’t cry.
But he only remembered that he had cried because his knees were bruised and red from all the “teaching” in his sword lessons.
The fog parted bit by bit.
Behind the fog was a patch of forest.
The stars shone against the night sky, the pine forest rustled, and the stream tinkled. In the distance, flames shone gently as in a dream.
Brendel remembered that in his childhood, the summer night air had also been this fresh.
He inhaled deeply and then looked up. Then he saw the carriage, parked quietly in the middle of the forest.
The carriage door was wide open and revealed a corner of a silver gown.
The beautiful young girl lay in the carriage, a black dagger pierced through her chest. She was very beautiful and her pointed ears declared her identity. But differently than Haruz, she was a true elf.
Brendel didn’t say anything.
But he already knew who she was.