History silently reflected upon the stary night sky. Legends said those brilliant new stars were the heroes of the past. They looked down upon the earth from the heavens and watched the current world through the gaze of history. The wind never once stopped as it whistled through the forest, but it wasn’t a strong wind. It simply caressed the pine needles with a gentle hand so that they moved in unison and produced a rustling sound. The sound was like a sleepy murmur, describing the history of this forest.
The borders of the world collapsed as the dream progressed. The areas surrounding the forest seemed like they were being swallowed by endless fog, leaving behind only this little patch of solid ground and heavens among the void -- the wind from the mountains passing through the forest, the grassland, the carriage, and the assassinated elven girl in it, as well as Brendel and the others accompanying him. Together, they made up this still painting.
The moonlight traveled across the plains, time passed as the stars and the silvery moon rose from the west and sank in the east.
For everyone else, this was the end of the dream. But it wasn’t linear. Brendel looked up at this entire forest and his gaze passed through the various trunks and laded upon the pitch-black carriage. He called out loudly, “Cauldell, I know you’re here. Come out and let me see the tricks up your sleeve.”
Silence fell, so quiet that you could near a needle drop --
A pale figure revealed itself in the carriage and slightly shook. It glowed like a phantom, as it if was covered in phosphorescence. He wore sharply pressed noblemen’s clothes and an elven longsword hung at his hips, but he didn’t have a face. Only a pair of shining eyes were left on his face, as smooth as a slab of stone.
Without a mouth, he couldn’t communicate. The Min’ers believed that language was the bridge connecting people to people, but the person without a name had long ago escaped into his own dream and become lost. So aside from having his eyes to “doubt”, he needed neither ears nor his mouth.
The pale ghost appeared by the carriage door and stared silently at Brendel. It didn’t say anything and Brendel didn’t say anything either.
As if a long time had passed, the phantom then slowly opened his mouth to ask, “Why are you challenging me?”
Though it didn’t have a mouth, his voice resonated throughout the forest like a clap of thunder coming in from the distance. Haruz’s face paled in fright and he instinctively ducked behind his sister. But the princess and her attendants didn’t seem to hear. They looked in the direction Brendel was talking in, completely lost as if there was nothing there.
“You know what you should do. What you’re trying to protect here is just a fake, an illusion that doesn’t exist. You should return to the world you belong in and not waste any more time here. Otherwise, you’ll abandon yourself in this fantastical dream maze and never wake up.” Viscount Cauldell said slowly, “But you came here and let me see the choice you made out of weakness. You choose to stay here forever and immerse yourself in the illusion of the past?”
Since threats don’t work, it’s trying to entice me? Brendel laughed coldly and drew his sword to point it at the pale figure.
“What’s even weaker than weakness? You’re just an incomplete persona. Hatred and jealousy has long ago destroyed your intelligence. After your experience of wandering in the forest for so long, obsession has swallowed your personality. How could a thing like you understand what salvation is?”
He let out a breath of air and bared his white teeth. He answered, “What you have forgotten is not just your honor. You forgot something even more important, and it was lost a long time ago on your road to growing up. Viscount Cauldell, the starting point to all of this, the root of all your hatred is covered by all the wounds. But I will find it and show it to you --”
“Humans learned to cry to protect against hurt. But you probably forgot this a long time ago because you can no longer be considered a human.”
Hlaran Gain’s blade, as black as the dream, pointed straight ahead at the chest of the pale shadow. But it also seemed to be a boundary in this forest, separating this and that world.
The phantom’s face showed signs of anger.
In the next second, Haruz’s silver eyes reflected a flame. The fire ignited from the carriage behind Viscount Cauldell and then spread out.
In the blink of the eye, the forest turned into a sea of fire. Viscount Cauldell’s eyes glinted. He waved a hand indifferently and then shrieked out the words, “Fine, then let’s see how long you can be stubborn for --”
“What you think of as persistence in your heart is actually just fragility.”
“Human hearts are all fakes.”
The pale phantom reached out his left hand where the fingers turned into sharp claws. A crack suddenly appeared on his featureless face like a mouth, letting out mocking laughter directed at everyone.
Then the sea of fire swallowed the entire forest. A dense fog rose amidst the flames and the surrounding scenery changed once again. Brendel still felt the raging fire around him, but when he glanced around the pine forest was no more. What appeared in his field of vision was a straight hallway. One one side of the hallway was an arched French window, outside the window the manor and the palace rose and fell and stretched out into the distant lights.
But this resplendent pearl upon the plains was now covered with dust. This entire city was going up in flames. Fires shot up everywhere. Brendel and the little prince next to him saw the flame spread out alongside the palace grounds until it reached them. Everywhere they could see was a sea of fire.
The glass on the arched window shattered in the high heat and countless skeleton troopers rushed in from all sides. These skeletons shakily raised their swords made of netherworld iron, and the phosphorescence in their eyes flickered as they tried to surround them.
On those black long swords, devil’s snares and black roses bloomed. They were like a thorn in Brendel’s eyes, causing his pupils to constrict again and again.
What a familiar scene. The Undead appeared in the sea of fires, the palace was burning, the city was collapsing. The Undead army swept in from their homeland, leaving nothing but ashes where they had passed.
Aouine’s radiant flag turned into ash after this night. The very last night, the elegy in the hearts of players of Aouine, was now being recreated in his memory.
The last battle of Monsterros --
Viscount Cauldell’s high-pitched laughter echoed in mid-air. But the laughter had traces of hatred in it, “You think it’s so easy to make a choice? But reality will always force you. You’ll be in desperate situations and have to choose between life or death. What can mortals do in the face of destiny?”
But Brendel paid him no attention. He felt for his powers which were still at the peak of Silver Rank. He immediately turned around and said to Haruz next to him, “Retreat with your sister into Kinten Palace and try to find a way towards White Rose Castle. You should know there’s a secret passage there that leads to the underground river.”
“What about you, teacher?” One of Harzu’s hands was being gripped tightly by Princess Gryphine. He couldn’t help but look up in worry.
“Of course I’m retreating with you two. What are you thinking?” Brendel answered in exasperation. “But I have to beat off these skeletons. I can’t very well hold onto your sister the entire way, right?”
Princess Gryphine paused slightly and just realized that Brendel had a grip on her wrist this entire time. She hurriedly struggled free with her face turning red.
“I know that secret passage. It’s under the bed in the room the Queen had lived in. You all follow me.” She pretended to be calm as she answered.
Haruz stuck out his tongue and hurriedly covered his sister as she retreated in the hallway behind Brendel. Brendel turned around. Those skeletons may be slow, but they were getting close. He knew that getting involved with these low-level undead creatures would be an endless fight. He looked up at the structure of the hallway and swung his sword, one on each side. The columns on either side of the hallway collapsed and the hallway, having lost its support, instantly collapsed and buried the unsteady undeads underneath it.
Brendel kicked every last one of the few that escaped so they landed back amongst the ruins. Then he put away his sword, turned around and ran.
Kinten Palace was now completely engulfed by flames, but at least this was more or less the same as what he remembered. The hallway leading to the inside courtyard was mostly made up of stone, so they survived the fire. They took the road to the White Rose Castle. They didn’t walk too far before they saw the vague outlines of the castle, built in the Kirrlutz style, surface in the night air.
White Rose Castle was first built before the Year of the Golden Hoof. Its earliest owner was actually from Kirrlutz, but afterward, the land and everything on it was given to the previous king and his subjects. After the Year of Chaos, the castle was ruined in a fire and then rebuilt along with Kinten Palace. What Brendel saw now was the rebuilt castle.