A miniature scarab waddled over the shiny glass surface of the hourglass, its feet leaning on the hourglass crevice, attempting to climb onto the glass, only to slip time and time again. Eventually, through much effort it grappled onto the wooden pillar in the hourglass center, gradually making its way to the top, only for a pale, delicate finger to force it down again.

Furious, it flaunted its wings while spinning in circles, scrunching over the sand. Frustratingly, it fell back on the walnut desk, making a little spin, and its routine began once again.

Sunlight was radiating through the windowpane, on the other side of it was lush greenery. Downstairs, Madam Camille was trimming the bushes. 

The parterres down in the courtyard were inherited from the Graudin era.

Madam Camille was specifically invited from Ampere Seale by Amandina as a professional landscaper, but it was clear that Madam Camille had yet accustomed herself to the heat and humidity of Trentheim.

Nonetheless, she was all praises for the young socialite Amandina, certain that she was a true lady not seen in the near hundred-mile radius. Her elegance and etiquette were not beneath the princess. 

And quite likely due to the mistress of the house, the proud woman agreed to the position in Firbur, which she deemed an impoverished, squalor of a village. 

“Brendel, you...don’t blame me do you?” In the study, Aloz, in one of her rare, nearly unprecedented moments where her head was hung low, puppy-eyed towards Brendel, one that left the ashen-haired blond, tall and sturdy, right next to her, visibly dumbfounded. 

The once ferocious and proud Mother of dragons had this soft-spoken side to her?!

Amongst the three great catastrophes of the Dragon tribe, Aloz was in clear first. If the news of her today were to spread, not a single soul would believe it. Hence, he was certain that it was just an illusion, likely from the blazing heat blinding his senses.

It sure was a bizarre occurrence however that the heat had not receded even as summer was coming to a close, but instead seemingly backtracking to its seasonal peak. The days grew warmer one day after another.

And it had been over two weeks since the last rainfall.

“Lord commander, this isn’t Miss Aloz’s fault, it’s my oversight,” Medissa, with a muffled tone, pleaded. 

Brendel turned to look at the Silver elf princess, knowing that this was in large part due to the negligence of young Mother Dragon Aloz, upon using the star-shaped rock as a stool, went ahead to save the day but crucially left the rock behind. Throughout, Medissa was oblivious of it.

And it was of pure coincidence that Arreck was in the right place at the right time, and seized the opportunity he did. Since Scarlet vanished after the explosion, Aloz had been restless, which came to Brendel’s surprise for he was not expecting her to care as much, which in turn soothed his nerves.

Regardless, Scarlet was not his biggest concern at the moment. When the Star-shaped rock exploded, Milos’ myth appeared in the nick of time,  blessing everyone present and keeping them alive, in turn rectifying that the Highland maiden did not after all lose her life in the catastrophe. 

For even if a god’s word was not to be trusted, then the absence of the Azure Lance in the rubble was a double confirmation. Now the question remains. Where can Scarlet be?

But that was not too severe an issue. Brendel was confident that with Scarlet’s current skill level, anyone that could put up a real threat against her in the entirety of Aouine was far and few between, so naturally Brendel was not too concerned for her livelihood.

Instead, from what Milos had said, if she survived the gargantuan explosion, she must be bogged down by events in between. Now that search knights and mercenaries had been dispatched from the main base and Lantonilan, with the Deadly Tundra forest now effectively wiped off the face of the earth, it should not take long before news of her whereabouts return.

He was still deeply troubled by Scarlet’s condition however, but not to the extent of throwing blame on anyone.

What his main concern had been, was Arreck’s death. 

Upon Arreck’s death, the revelation of him being the Darkness dragon can no longer be hidden any further, and this was a bane to Brendel’s position. Now he was eager to know who Arreck’s handler was, and to dig that person out from the wide expanse of the world was like a needle in a haystack.

Staring back at Aloz, the young Mother Dragon, along with the man next to her, who evidently was also a dragon, apparently here to escort her back to the Dragon tribe. It was known that Aloz was caught cheating in her exam previously and was hence expelled from the home tribe. Even though it was of her own making, Brendel felt she was pitiful enough already. 

Shaking his head, he calmly replied, “It’s fine, how long are you going back this time around?”

According to his knowledge, imprisonment from the Dragon tribe was measured by centuries, and if Aloz’s wrongdoing was severe enough, it might last just as long, which would mean his momentous efforts to connect with them were to no avail.

“It’s three centuries this time,” Aloz pouted as she said, her grim expression then promptly replaced by hope as she proclaimed, “But fret not, for they can never keep it locked up for long, I’ll be back in no time.”

Brendel was stupefied by her remark, instantly turning towards the blond-haired man next to her. The man wittily kept his eyes towards the ceiling, seemingly drawing the line at where it was his problem.

Noticing that, Brendel could finally let out a sigh of relief. Even though he was not entirely sure of the man’s actions, which comprehensibly was related to Aloz, he promptly glared at the latter. 

If you were to jailbreak then do it without informing the world about it!

I know you’re fearless, but what about the rest of us? What if they know about me and think I’m complicit? If the Dragon tribe comes to us, even ten Valhallas would not come to our defense this time!

Aloz noted his glance and promptly rolled her eyes. I get it, geez!

The young Mother Dragon then proceeded to whine and scoff, and added several other comments along the lines of “Don’t you dare forget me!”, “I’ll be back very soon”, before being escorted away by the blond-haired man.

At which point Medissa too, bid her farewells, and among her words of formalities she mentioned that Veronica wanted to meet with him.

Brendel knew the female legion commander must have hurried her way back to the kingdom, after what she would consider a grand victory. Yet Brendel noted the uneasiness on her face, which led him to agree to Medissa’s request.

And then, it was back to just the two of them in the massive estate.

The study reverted back to its pin-drop silence, and Brendel once again directed his gaze beyond the window panes.

Between the flower beds, right next to the horse stable, Kodan was monitoring as the servants groomed two gallant Arreck horses. Through the refracted sunlight over the luscious greenery, he seemed like a crusty old veteran.

Nevertheless, the princess’ plans to act on Radner were no longer a secret to Brendel and his subordinates, for Brendel knew exactly what Kodan had known, even if he did not take to confirm it. Regardless, he was dispirited, on one side it was the kingdom that he had sworn loyalty to, on the other hand, was his old master. 

At this point Kodan seemed to have taken the role of the old butler within the castle, a role that Brendel wouldn’t mind, after all, despite his antics, he was well acquainted with his late grandfather, and at this point, Brendel sees him more as a guest of Trentheim.

Further away, over at the Coldwood castle, its white walls now covered with moss and overreaching rhizome fern. Within, there was a flight of stairs leading straight towards the walkway on the castle walls, and naturally there stood several patrolling guards. The corridor had built-in embrasures connecting to the arrow tower.

The helmets of crossbowmen reflecting the lights from the pinnacle of the arrow tower, one of them busy chatting with his colleague.

Outside the city walls was Coldwood castle’s main street, and by then the straw huts lining both sides had long been demolished.

Taking their places were sturdier and longer-lasting stone houses, complemented by stone-paved roads that now provided a contemporary appeal. On the street today was a merry sight as crowded citizens weaved between one another, packed like sardines. 

The only thing visible from above were the red-tiled roofs, with the occasional tree in between. From a birds-eye view, it resembled a parsley patch.

Witnessing this invigorating sight undoubtedly lightened the frustration Brendel had within, replaced by a newly reunited sense of pride, watching the rebirth of Coldwood city that was but a crumbling wasteland just a year ago.

At least it now regained its semblance of a city, compared to Bunosong and Magitan, the cities that he had visited, Coldwood city was now on par with the others, in certain ways even more prosperous. It was a sight not even present in the game. 

And it was all his own deeds. Nevertheless, he gave praise to where it was due, namely the efforts of Amandina and Romaine. To be honest, in terms of its prosperity, it was the unsung merchant girl that deserved all the praise. 

The revitalization plan was her own idea, and it was her making that led to the bustling business scene in Trentheim of today.

Today, the water belt from Port Gris to Ampere Seale connected the entire north, bringing countless ships into the waters of the kingdom. Under the watch of the Shining Scale Nagas, this sea route had become the safest waterway the entire Aouine kingdom had ever had, news of its success by now rapidly spread across the world. 

His agreement with Winter Dew had yet shown any visible benefits but had perked the attention of traders and businessmen alike, after all, they were always the most attentive of the changing tides. 

Countless supplies entered the waterways into Firbur, and from Firbur city to the Loop of Trade Winds. Any concern that these supplies and raw ingredients were not readily utilized would be delighted to know of the black forests as the untapped region awaiting its glorious awakening. 

T’was only been two months, but Master Bosley had already recruited many students and subordinates to distinguish the grounds where precious ores like platinum, gold, bronze or mithril could be extracted, not to mention the best of forestry, countless hunting game, a wide variety of rare herbs and a land of fertile soil millenia in the making!

Through the centuries, this stretch of the forest had always kept mortals away for its haunting aura and the frightful beasts lurking within.

Yet today, the flame of Order within the core of the Loop of Trade Winds has been lit. 

With the Kalanga mountain range as centrepoint, Order was once again stabilized, the druids and the tree elves joined Brendel’s legion, forcing open the final gate for the Aouine people. 

With the supplies steadily imported from the entire North, the dream of buried treasure was gradually becoming reality. With the cargo ships by the port, loaded to full capacity returning to where they came, effectively playing the roles of manpower, technical support, and magic manufacturing that Brendel so eagerly sought after. 

The shipping route had become a symbol of a path of gold, as every single person taking the route left richer than they were yesterday. Anyone with a tiny bit of grit, wisdom, and spirit could achieve what they wanted, and it was all due to the grace of the ever-generous fiancee of the great Lord commander.  

All thanks to Romaine, despite not being able to keep all harvest festivals in check as neat and tidily the way Amandina did before, she single-handedly revived the market scene, thriving and reinvigorated as it was today.

And the sardine-packed crowds within the city, and the traders in the guesthouses, along with the bustling scenes by the harbor was all her tireless work, deal by deal, one after another. 

A city that had virtually nothing in the beginning, all thanks to the effort of the young, unremarkable girl and her words successfully convincing the Merchant’s guild, which started the flow of goods, led to the prosperity and glory of today. Ships would arrive in Port Gris empty and leave filled to the brim with goods and supplies. 

Brendel acknowledged that he never paid much attention to the business side of things, but he felt fortunate that what felt like a blink of an eye and all of this were here before him.

Nevertheless, he was never in any doubt that the little merchant girl, now a merchantress in her own right, would coordinate and restructure Trentheim to new heights. 

Bystanders were expecting him to acquire Radner’s lands before he could initiate his great plan, but never would they expect that Aouine’s future was now presented before their eyes.

And it all began with the young maiden beside him, and the blueprint she drafted. 

He couldn’t bear to look Romaine in the eye. The Merchantress herself retracted her fingers, like white scallions supporting her chubby cheeks, her bubbly eyes staring intensely at her plaything. 

The plaything in mention was naturally the scarab that was tirelessly crawling to the top, but unsurprisingly, each time it reached the top it was forced back down by its merciless owner. It would continue for several times more, to the interest of both owner and pet.  

The Merchantress was wearing a noble robe, yet sitting in a slouched position, leaving them crumpled and creased. Topped off with the sleeves folded, she effectively converted clothing of elegance to the corniness of a village maiden.

If Madam Camille saw her looking like this, she would have nagged and sighed. Brendel recalled the time when she wrongly assumed Amandina to be his fiancee, and only when Amandina herself went to clarify did the misunderstanding cleared, but nevertheless left a peculiar expression on Madam Camille.

Brendel would look a true god in the eye without flinching, but for a rustic old woman like Madam Camille to glare at his side-eyed brought chills to his spine. That instance might just be one and only time Brendel had ever run from a fight in this world without even attempting a battle.

Brendel and the Merchantress sat side by side. With that proximity, he could feel her body warmth, and the sweet fragrance she exuded into the air.

He appeared rather preoccupied, seemingly in deep contemplation of a certain something before he proactively reached out her tiny waist, so sleek his arm effortlessly wrapped around it. The Merchantress felt the sudden warmth that he offered and reactively glanced towards him.

Her lips lifted ever so slightly, yet subtle as she lovingly kicked Brendel on the leg, before reverting to teasing the pitiful scarab.

Brendel’s mind was muddled with bits and pieces of everything, but he noticed that when Romaine was interacting with the businessmen, she was rather obsessed with the whereabouts of every little penny, yet never stingy on the money in her possession.

The truth was, besides the deal on hand that she was brokering, the Merchantress was incredibly generous to everyone who crossed her path. And every time he noticed he would take to asking, and every single time her answer would be identical to the last. 

Detaching her scarab from the top of the hourglass for the millionth time now, she solemnly replied, “In certain ways, trade is like war. On the battlefield, you’ve got to count your artillery, but for success to come your way, you’ve got to adjust your focus on the long run. Stinginess isn’t going to take you anywhere.”

Brendel was baffled, yet rather amused, “Hmm, where did you get this from, your aunt too?”

“Well nah, not this time. My aunt doesn’t do business herself, it’s my own philosophy, pretty great right?”

Brendel could only watch in awe, at the girl who he would perceive as raw talent on display. 

Romaine on the other hand seemed to have something entirely different in focus, as her excited grins quickly faded as she pouted, “Speaking of which, felt like forever since I last saw my aunt. Say, Brendel, aren’t you supposed to be looking for her, haven’t heard anything from you recently.”

Just a mere mention from Romaine left Brendel red as a tomato, embarrassed for his clear lack of effort in that aspect. 

If Romaine never took to mention, Brendel would have forgotten about Aunt Jenny entirely. After all, Aunt Jenny had always felt just like Brendel’s own family in this world, which felt like mere side characters, never carrying any genuine weight. 

Even though he did send an envoy to Bucce to gather intel on her whereabouts, it was just an afterthought, he never even told Amandina about this! And once there was news from Bucce that she was nowhere to be seen, the hunt ended prematurely and it had relegated to the back of his head since.

Not to mention the ever-increasing tasks to handle, notably since half a year ago when he wholeheartedly offered to pull Aouine back to relevance from the brink of destruction. Since then, time had been a rare commodity. 

With barely any time to stop for a breath, how else could he afford a manhunt?

Now that I’m thinking about it, for all Romaine has done for me, only to leave her looking this dispirited, can’t say I don’t feel guilty about this…

“I’m sure we’ll pick up news about her really soon. Aouine is a big nation, and I bet your aunt is also eagerly searching for you from wherever she is. You’ve made a name for yourself now, as long as we give it a little more attention, I know we’d reunite with her in no time!’ He pinched Romaine’s little chubby cheeks as a gesture of reassurance.

Romaine chuckled, her eyes winced like a petite arctic fox.

“Haha aww, Brendel, you feel bad now huh?”

“Cough cough,” Brendel’s cheeks were bright red, nearly forgetting about how observant the young entrepreneur was, regardless of how amicable she was to him. Given how little room she offered him to back into, he scoffed at the remark by the cheeky little maiden.

What he was not expecting was for Romaine to stare right at him, with a solemn gaze on her face, shaking her head as she added, “It’s fine really. Brendel, I know you have a legendary goal for yourself, and so do I. Back then, when I talk about my dreams, even Freya would burst into laughter, but only you believed in me. You took my dreams seriously.”

“Brendel, you have always tolerated my goals, so Romaine will also tolerate Brendel’s goal.”

“You know what? Aunt Jenny once told me that mortals’ dreams are like the stars in a summer night sky, shining so bright yet so far away. But if one dares to reach out for it, who knows one day you might actually grasp the shining stars in your hands. For the sky full of shimmering stars belongs to everyone appreciating its beauty.”

Brendel stared right back at Romaine, awe-inspired, right then her brilliant eyes seemed to reflect the starry Bucce night.

He had always wondered why this little maiden, rather bland on the surface, ever since Bucce would follow him around, and would help him unconditionally. One he had always assumed was part of her personality, that as long as it was someone close to her, she would offer her all to support them where she could. 

But it had never crossed his mind that she genuinely believed she could do it. And like she said, in a starry summer night scattered with the brightest stars, if one were to reach it, they might actually catch them in their grasp.

Doesn’t matter if the star he wanted was the brightest one in the night sky.

“Do you know what I wanted to do, little Romaine?” 

Romaine nodded and proceeded with a concise reply.

“I do. Brendel, your dream is to marry Her Highness Princess Gryphine, and become the true king of Aouine.”