TL: 09/05/2017. Changed one of the character’s name Bretton to Bennett. This chapter has been updated.
[If I remember correctly, Marden is the current captain of Bucce’s guards. A soldier who participated the November War like Brendel’s grandfather.]
Sophie knew him because he was the famous NPC in-game who taught travelers the ‘Exploration’ skill.
But the true reason why this old soldier was famous amongst the gamers, was because he committed an egregious error as the guard’s leader.
He had mistaken the intention of Madara’s invasion to be the usual skirmishes in the past. He had one chance to launch a counter-attack and defeat the undead army’s vanguard, then retreat without casualties and become the hero of this kingdom.
Sadly, he did not take this opportunity and chose to evacuate the Bucce’s citizens, and ultimately entered into a path of obscurity because he was blamed for the failure to stop Madara’s advance, and the loss of countless lives.
[It’s a pity that he had to end up this way. But how exactly did he discover Madara’s attack early and why did he not choose to fight them? ……Is it because he wanted to keep his own life?]
An impossible thought suddenly sprang out of his mind and he threw it out at once. He had seen the old man in the game and found no signs the latter was a coward.
[Regardless, I need to try to think of a way to warn them and change history. Fire is a warning sign in the army’s regulation and an indication of an invasion. I can only hope they understand this signal]
The banging continued outside the door and every second was steeped with a tense atmosphere.
“Brendel, they are coming in now!” Romaine gripped the masonry hammer tightly with both of her hands. She stared at the door with her brows bunched together like a knot.
Sophie did not have time to think about his plan any longer; he glanced back to the door upon hearing Romaine’s words. They would be dead if the undead skeleton army rushed in.
Crashing sounds emitted from the door as sharp swords hacked in and out. The Madara’s swords gleamed like they were the fangs of a beast.
Something knocked against the door violently with a huge crashing sound, causing dust clouds to slowly fall from the ceiling.
The wooden door groaned as cracks quickly fractured it.
[Calm down, calm down, just continue treating like a game. Remember the missions you have done, this is merely one of them……]
He breathed in deeply to regain his composure. He tied a cloth drenched in oil around a bundle of straws and firewood, then tied everything with a string; the whole process was done with ease. The creation of a torch was the most basic task in the game. This particular combination would last for a few minutes.
But the remaining time given to him was dwindling, and soon enough another violent smash struck against the door, causing the hinges to break and rattle loudly. The dust flew sharply and hovered everywhere from the impact.
“Brendel!” Romaine felt as her heart was going to jump out of her throat and she blinked her bright eyes furiously.
“I’m here with you, don’t worry, I just need a little longer.” Sophie’s forehead was full of perspiration from the pain and tension. He struck the flint with a metal chain many times, sending sparks flying everywhere but the torch refused to be lit.
A game was different from reality.
The soldiers’ immense strength finally cracked the door’s center open and made it tilt sideways, but it still barred entry.
A bone hand reached in from the outside to break the latch.
The merchant girl jolted from fright and she immediately smashed the hammer on it. The hammer pounded on it with a bang and cracks immediately appeared on top of the hand, but the skeleton soldier did not feel any pain and only paused slightly before it tugged at the latch again.
Romaine was stunned momentarily as she witnessed this scene, even forgetting the hammer in her hands.
“Brendel, Brendel, what shall I—…..” She quickly asked, fear creeping into her voice.
Brendel finally lit up the torch just as the door’s metal latch fell onto the ground with a clank.
With the door finally opened, the first skeleton marched in with its sword. It turned its heads and the flames within its black eye sockets locked onto the youths.
One of the skeletons witnessed a dark object becoming bigger and bigger in its field of vision, and before it could react a hatchet was buried into the skull.
(……. This is your final resort. When you throw your sword you must remember that your hands must be stead, your center of gravity low, and no hesitation. You need to try and maintain a straight line between you and your target…….
…… If your enemy is a skeleton, then your best target would be to choose the shoulder blade and arms, the spine or the thigh bone. And unless you have the confidence to break the head open, the skull is not the weakest point…..)
Sophie suddenly had a flashback of Brendel’s instructor teaching him how to fight against skeletons.
If he did it at the start of the game he would probably have split the skull into two equal parts because of the ‘Heroic’ stats as a player, but like what the instructor had taught him, a hatchet stuck in the skull did no damage to the overall structure.
Sophie looked at the skeleton soldier leaning backwards. He had used the military skill ‘throw’ which would have been difficult for Brendel, but Sophie reflexively used it as a veteran. Yet when the hatchet left its hand, the brutal realization struck him when he remembered he no longer had a player’s stats.
“Miss Romaine, be careful!” He pulled the merchant to his back as he saw it straightening up again.
“Brendel…..” She was completely terrified.
“Don’t worry I’m here.”
Even though Brendel said that, his heart said otherwise, especially after seeing the pile of packed skeletons rushing in.
He surveyed his surroundings but there was simply nothing that could be used here. That skeleton was about to shrug off from its temporary daze.
What could he do? Just give up?
Sophie shook his head. He could only gamble on to survive!
He charged forward with gritted teeth, grabbing the skeleton’s sword arm and ribcage, and lifted the skeleton upwards with an almost practiced maneuver before he hurled it towards the group of skeletons.
Perhaps extraordinary circumstances allowed him to use every ounce of Brendel’s strength. The skeleton was unable to resist when it lost its balance, and was sent crashing backwards while affecting the ones behind him. These forced the skeleton to take a few steps back.
The Madara’s undead was stopped for a short moment but it was more than enough.
The young man’s emotions spiraled into a daze. He could not believe he succeeded with this desperate move.
He threw the torch onto the stacked firewood and straws in the corner of the kitchen.
Flames flared up quickly.
“Let’s run, Romaine!” Brendel pulled her hand from the side and start leading her to the back door.
She had never felt so tense in her life. The last time she saw the youth was well over a year ago, and only felt that he was shy and easy to talk to. His recent return seemed to show that he had not changed much either.
But today he displayed courage and composure beyond belief. These qualities which were displayed during these dangerous junctures, were surely the ‘reliable man’ had that her aunt always mumbled about right?
[This feeling is sooo strange—]
Her mind thought about things that she could not explain. When she noticed that he grabbed her arm, her heart started racing.
“Brendel?” She said when Sophie suddenly stopped moving.
Smoke started to fill the place up and the kitchen was filled with choking odors.
Sophie finally cleared his head.
[Mother Marsha above, I set fire to Brendel’s grandfather’s house. He will surely suffer divine retribution. Err, even though I’m Brendel right now.]
Messy thoughts started popping up, as Brendel’s memories filling his entire mind.
A low, raspy voice came from behind: “Move quickly, my undead soldiers. Put out this fire and ferret out that worm, we only have a minute—”
The voice cleared the youth’s mind and he started to move again. He knew that the undead was afraid of fire and would be difficult for the skeletons to advance. This was the best time for him to run.
But the fire was a double edged sword and he needed to be quick.
“Let’s go.” Sophie pulled a string of sausages from the ceiling and led the merchant girl towards the back by blindly feeling his way there. This was not a gesture of his greediness, but to the players within the ‘The Amber Sword’, they had developed a subconscious instinct to grab food whenever it was available before fleeing.
The fire became bigger in sheer seconds, and turned the surroundings into a sea of flames with billowing smoke. The temperature was rising quickly.
However, Sophie swiftly found the small door that was used to transport food. He opened it and went inside before locking it again.
Sophie coughed once but the merchant girl behind him was coughing in distress. He calmed himself before searching the grounds, and instantly found the golden latch. Just as he was about to open it, he hesitated.
He suddenly recalled something.
============ Freya’s POV ==============
Perhaps to the citizens of Grinoires, the stars and skies in April or May did not hold many differences. It was only when one looked down from the slopes of the hilltops at the end of the fifth month where the temperature would start to rise up, would they find the place to be a sea of red and white flowers in the early summer. It was the most peaceful place in Aouine, but it was also filled with wars for many centuries.
The girl looked up. The summer night’s sky was like crystals that covered the entire western to northern areas. The bright starry light painted the night. These stars held legendary tales of gods and myths amongst the citizens.
She stood at the village entrance and cast her eyes at the hilltop. Freya was slightly worried. That loud bang earlier made her feel restless.
[Did they not mention there was undead movement in the nearby regions, is it possible……]
Upon hearing that should she turned her head, and looked at the young boy who still had traces of a child with surprise. He anxiously ran to her side, bent at the waist and panting.
“What’s wrong, little Fenris, did something happen?” The young girl’s voice was soft and clear.
“Did you hear that noise?”
“Yes, I came to take a look at it because of that,” Her gaze went back to the hilltop, “I’m worried about Romaine, her aunt went to the nearby town….. I heard that it was unsafe recently and asked her to stay at my home for two days, but she did not agree to it.”
The young boy looked at her with wide eyes.
The girl’s light orange hair was tied into a long ponytail, and her figure appeared to give out a heroic atmosphere. She wore a greyish white leather armor made from cowskin, and in it was a thick set of cotton shirt, the symbol on her left shoulder painted with black dye to look like a painting of pine leaves.
On her waist was a short rapier and on its hilt was a fire emblem.
If Sophie was there he would instantly recognize her as a civilian soldier of Bucce. The black pines were the most common tree in Grinoires mountainous regions, and it was also the symbol of the Bucce forces.
The formal army guards of Bucce wore a well-made combat cape and leather armor that a different color.
In Aouine, every youth would receive militia training and it usually started from the age of fourteen. The training would take place every year starting from October to next year’s March until they reached nineteen. The youths and adults who received the training would become militia and were the most important reserves during times of war. This rule was set during the Year of Thunder, and militia training became one of the most important measures in Aouine’s military initiatives.
“Isn’t that young man staying there? I heard he was a militia at Bruglas.” The young boy said.
“The people from the city are not trustworthy,” She flipped her long ponytail and furrowed her brows: “I’m worried precisely because that man is staying over there!”
“This is just your bias, Captain Freya~”
“What would you know……. Never mind.” The young girl lectured him without turning her head: “Alright, just spit it out, a boy shouldn’t long-winded like a girl, got it!?”
“Captain Marden has ordered the guards to gather up!” Little Fenris’s neck shrank a little and said.
Surprise streaked across Freya’s eyes: “Captain Marden? How did you come to know this?”
“That idiot Bennett told me,” He blinked and replied: “When I came out, he already rode ahead to report to the guards.”
“Do you know what exactly is going on?”
“No.” He shook his head.
The young girl turned her head towards to the hilltop, and she could barely see the manor’s outline in the darkness.
“Call up everyone, we’re going out.”
“Freya, it’s so late now, Aunt Shia will murder us!” The boy’s mouth was agape and asked instead: “It’s better that we wait for tomorrow’s news right?”
“Coward!” She glared at him, but knew he was speaking the truth. Even if she was the captain of the Bucce’s militia, she loathed to create trouble when she thought about her aunt’s terrifying wrath.
“Aren’t you just the same…..” He just mumbled a few words before he saw the girl’s serious face with a gesture to be silent.
“Shhh—” She turned her head sideways, and cupped her ears. There was a faint but distinct whistling sound.
“What is that sound?”
The whistling sound came from far away and approached nearer and nearer to their heads in mere seconds.
The young girl’s expression changed, and when she wanted to raise her head and move her body to evade, it was too late. A black shadow came from above the sky and pierced into her shoulder, causing her to yell out and fell backwards.
“Captain Freya!” He shouted.
“Fenris, run, run!” The ponytail girl yelled out in pain.
Arrows fell like rain.
============ Brendel’s POV ===============
“What’s, wrong, Brendel……..?” The merchant girl felt something was amiss and asked with coughs interrupting her words.
Sophie did not reply and searched through his memories.
When Madara attacked in the game they were not able to avoid the gamers. They were not like the NPCs who worked in the day and rested at night. Some of the gamers were truly like nocturnal creatures.
He recalled when Madara attacked, they also received interference from other gamers like himself, but most of their invasions were still successful.
Indeed, he recalled that this era where Aouine was an ancient kingdom marching to its death, its neighboring countries were welcoming the new turbulent era.
[Because the rising stars of Madara are coming out…….]
Sophie reflected pensively on the situation.
[The current Madara in this era shocked the continent because they had many incredibly skill leaders to the point where one could call them legendary. The new revolutions to the army’s policies (368th year, the revolution of the black rose) seven years prior made them even stronger. This change developed a strong foundation and outstanding disciples were nurtured, supporting their invasion with powerful military might.]
This military might would be displayed in this war.
And in the midst of the War of the Black Rose, the Madara’s army lightning speed and clear judgment shook everyone in their boots, and yet, it was until Aouine was decimated before everyone became vigilant.
And precisely because of this.
This blight, this darkness, this shadow, would devour this kingdom entirely.
“These bastards are not the same as common fodder.”
As his rivals in the past, Sophie had a deep impression with Madara’s officers. Only people who had fought with their elites would know of them.
Sophie’s hand was placed on the cold latch, his heart sinking into numbness. The moment when he closed the door to bar the undead from getting to them, would be the moment they launched a preemptive attack on Bucce. They would not allow him to have the time to provide the warning to them, even if it was just a possibility.
There was the possibility where Madara’s skeleton soldiers waiting behind the back door.
[What should I do?]