The autumn breeze in the area south of the Anvil Mountain Ranges, known locally as Ancalar, was blowing lightly across the great plains and forming ripples of varying depths similar to waves on the undulating hills. A young Lion Beastmen mounting a golden lion was on the peak of a mound, looking out over the horizon to the north of the plains.
The lion beneath him was clad in magnificent armor with beautiful pendants dangling from its mane. As it stood amidst the tall white dead grass, the lion would occasionally bob its massive head and sneeze softly. The white wilderness was the symbol of Toquenin and the origin of the name St. White Plains, a plain that stretched from the Silver Sand coast in the west to the borders of the human kingdom in the east. To its north, beneath the endless mountains, lay the mighty kingdom called Kirrlutz.
The Lion Beastmen boy stared intently in that direction.
"Nell, we should head back. That direction is as far as we can patrol. If you keep going forward, I can't should her responsibility." Behind a mound, another Lion Beastmen stood next to its lion and called out to the young boy.
Without turning his head, the Lion Beastmen boy replied, "It's all right. We'll cross over there tomorrow." His emerald-like eyes glinted with certainty. He was considered a rather handsome Lion Beastmen, with a beautiful golden mane, a well-proportioned physique even by human standards. Even though he was more powerful than most humans, his muscles were not bulging. He was half-naked, only wearing heavy armor over his right shoulder and arm and a necklace made of animal fangs on his chest.
The Lion Beastmen below him could not see behind the mound, but he knew a majestic fortress once existed there, built of pure white stones brought in from the plains. However, only the scattered rubble among the grasses remained the only proof it had ever eScarletsted.
"Nell, the humans will pay the price," he said.
"Yes, Amon," the Lion Beastmen boy replied.
Scarlet, assisted by her maids, took a lot of effort to go through a long corridor before she met the "someone" Sidney had mentioned in a courtyard. Unlike what she had imagined, it was neither a cold, harsh nobleman nor a graceful noblewoman who appeared before her but a young girl, a little younger than she was. Well, that was Scarlet presumed. Apart from the indifferent expression on her face, her figure and face resembled those of a teenage girl. She wore an extremely masculine silk robe despite her waist-length blonde hair and doll-like exquisite facial features. The edges were hemmed with ferret fur, and it was so long that it almost trailed across the floor.
The maiden looked in this direction with eyes as blue as the sea, and the mere look of authority silenced the maids, who took half a step back to let go of Scarlet and bowed respectfully. The uneasy Scarlet was standing alone, and she wondered she should do the same thing as them.
"You're the one they brought back from the south?" Constance spoke. Her voice sounded as clear as bells. She looked at Scarlet, her eyes gleaming as she praised, "What a beauty."
"My name is Scarlet. May… may I ask what exactly is this place?" Seeing that the other party was a young girl a few years younger than herself, the uneasiness in her heart subsided slightly, and she opened her mouth to ask in a small voice. However, that act of hers gave the maids a scare.
Although Constance was a woman, she was colder and more indifferent than men. They had never seen anyone dare to speak to her so presumptuously. At that instant, they were petrified that Scarlet would accidentally offend the temperamental mighty queen.
To their surprise, Constance did not mind it the slightest bit and even smiled faintly, which was rare of her to do so. "This is my palace."
"W-What did you say…?" Scarlet looked at her numbly.
The maids who were talkative before this turned pale. Her Majesty's words were so obvious, but this naive countess still asked what she meant by that. It's equivalent to calling Her Majesty by her name! They could almost imagine Constance bursting in a fury and the ensuing questioning and anger directed at them, and they could not help but shiver in fear.
Contrary to their expectations, Constance was amused. She had never seen such a simple maiden in her years of living in the palace. Seeing the seemingly dumbstruck Scarlet, a feeling of pride rose in her heart, and she smiled somewhat teasingly. "You heard me right. This is the White Rose Garden of San Cotepe Palace. I think you should have heard of this place. As for me, I believe no one would dare to object me if I say that the whole palace, and even the wider land beyond it, belongs to me."
Constance thought that these words would frighten the poor little girl, but she did not expect that they would instead have a far less shocking effect on Scarlet than the preceding words. That was because the Highlander knew what the sentence "This is my palace." stood for, but she did not necessarily know the meaning behind the White Rose Garden of San Cotepe Palace. Under the rule of the Holy Cathedral of Fire, anyone with a little knowledge should have heard of the White Rose Garden of San Cotepe Palace, the center of power in Kirrlutz. Unfortunately, Scarlet, who grew up in the woods of Chablis, was the rare exception. To her, the political-sounding name was no different from the places in Valhalla and Coldwood Castle.
Disappointed, Constance watched as the Highlander blinked and asked uneasily, "But how did I end up here?"
"I had my people invite you here." Constance was a queen after all, and this spur-of-the-moment failed prank left no mark in her mind, disappearing in the blink of an eye.
Those words silenced Scarlet.
Constance's words seemed to have filled her mind with countless fragments of jumbled memories, and she finally recalled what had happened after Orvina had sealed her into the Undefeated Boundary to protect her. Everything that happened within that dream had actually taken place. She was transported from Lantonilan to the sea, through Grey Harbor and Yanbao, across half the Kirrlutz to the political center of the kingdom, and finally freed from the crystal in the holy cathedral.
Although she still did not quite understand how she had somehow become some countess, she was not a fool. At that moment, she realized who the "young girl" standing in front of her really was.
"Your Majesty," she replied, evidently unease.
Constance nodded in satisfaction.
The maids behind Scarlet were so relieved that they almost patted themselves on the chest. Thankfully, Lady Courtesy isn't too dumb. However, as if going against them, Scarlet's next words brought them back to the bottom of the abyss from which they had just climbed.
Constance watched as Scarlet frowned and clenched her fists hard. Then, arching an eyebrow, she asked, "You seem displeased to be here and be the countess of Kirrlutz."
"I don't want to be a countess or anything, Your Majesty. I just want to go back to Aouine."
The maids almost fainted at her words–if they were allowed to–but the queen was before them, so they could only hope with all her heart that Scarlet would not say any more presumptuous words.
Constance seemed a little offended, too, as she asked, "Why do you want to return to Aouine? Because you want to return to that count of yours? I heard that count is still a young man. Well, it is natural that a young girl of your origin would fall for a dashing young man like him." She shook her head. "But you must understand that you and he are not meant to be together. He has a great future ahead of him, so how can he possibly fall for you? The person who can be on the same bed as him will either be the daughter of a certain duke or that princess of yours. Whereas you, you are destined to be nothing more than a mistress. Ask yourself, is that what you want?"
Scarlet stared wide-eyed at the "young girl". She wanted to retort but could not open her mouth. Though she had never thought of Brendel in that way, it made no difference. After all, he already had a fiancée, and all she could do was watch everything happen silently. Constance's words pierced her heart like a thorn. Suddenly, she realised she had had the desire to be Brendel's mistress. Once that thought popped up in her mind, she hurriedly shook her head. No, Scarlet, you must not think that.
The Highlander looked up, her cheeks burning.
Constance watched her coldly, then asked, "Do you still want to go back?"
The queen's expression hardened. "Do you think I would let the Azure Lance leave Kirrlutz, little girl? I would rather destroy it than ever witness such a thing happen." Her voice was so chilling to the bones. The dignified aura she had accumulated over the years almost made the Highlander maids shiver. It seemed as if they would collapse onto the ground at any moment.
However, Scarlet looked stubbornly at her, and her gaze seemed to have answered the question– even if she had to die, she would die by Brendel's side.
Constance had no trouble feeling that insistence, and she snorted coldly." It's easy if you want to court death, but aren't you afraid of dragging that lord of yours down with you? After all, he has a great future ahead of him."
Scarlet shuddered and clenched her fists in anger, still staring at her.
Constance could not help but shake her head as she looked at Scarlet in this state. Then, raising her head, she said to the terrified maids, "Leave us alone here."