The wavering light of the torch illuminated the layer of ice that sloped into a chasm. The low temperature had caused a thick layer of fog to form that seemed to muffle all noise.
“Brendel.” Veronica’s voice carried a small buzz in the air. She turned around, her piercing emerald gaze locking onto Brendel. “How long do you think Arreck needs to arrive at the heart of this temple?”
“Half a day, or maybe forever. It depends on how well Arreck knows this area.” Brendel held his torch over the chasm, trying to gauge its depth as he added, “Arreck’s cunning is so well known that even bards sing of it. He was perfectly fine ruling the highlands with his iron fist. Do you really think a man like this would blindly walk to his death?
“His blind faith in All For One might have influenced his actions, but it does not mean that he is a mindless fool incapable of thinking for himself. I’ve fought with him before, so I know this very well.”
“So you’re saying that we have half a day?” asked Veronica.
“That’s the worst-case scenario. However, it won’t do us any good to assume otherwise,” answered Brendel.
“Can we make it in time?”
Brendel’s answer to the question was to stare at a certain dragon. Shitah wiped the edge of his lips as he said through a mouthful of honey, “Don’t look at me like that! This route is definitely faster, I swear -”
“On what?” Brendel countered. “Perhaps, for example, on the third golden scale of Bahamut’s neck?”
“Hey, watch it!” yelled Shitah. In the second Twilight War, the Midgard Snake Jormungandr had bitten onto Bahamut’s neck, and thus the third golden scale was lost. Ever since then, the wound was treated like the scars of a soldier, and the missing scale was revered by the dragons as a symbol of courage and honor.
To swear upon this golden scale was the most sacred oath that could be taken by a dragon. Even someone as cynical as Shitah would never swear on it on a whim.
“Do you know what you’re talking about? How dare you make me take the sacred oath!” the fat dragon screeched angrily.
“How unfortunate this is. You are now working for me, yet I need to make you swear an oath just so I can believe your words. Is there an employer who has worst luck than me? I’m sure that Marsha has seen all kinds of things from the heavens, but definitely nothing as absurd as this!” Brendel drawled. “Shitah, I’m sure you too understand why I’m reluctant to believe you.”
Shitah’s jaws opened and closed like a gaping fish. “B-but, that was because they were enemies! I’m not lying…”
“Since you’re not lying, it wouldn’t hurt anyone’s honor if you were to take the oath now, would it?” Brendel smiled. Looking at the duke’s smile, Shido and Scarlet felt as if they were in the presence of a true and worthy leader.
This self-absorbed, conniving –
“Fine, I’ll do it!” Shitah said defeatedly. “I swear on the third scale of the Dragon God, everything I say is true. This path is the fastest way to get there, I can say for sure that we will definitely be able to reach before the old humans, as long as -”
“As long as?”
“… As long as we don’t take the wrong way…” Shitah muttered softly.
“You won’t take us the wrong way, will you?” Brendel looked at her.
“That’s enough already!” The fat dragon yelled out as she was getting nervous from all of Brendel’s questioning.
Brendel turned to look at Veronica, signifying that there was her answer. Meanwhile, the lady gave a reprimanding look to Brendel. She felt sorry for the dragon for being bullied by Brendel for such a small matter.
Although the dragon was still an adolescent, and her behavior was rather bizarre.
“We have to stop Arreck,” she reiterated. Her words prompted nods from both Shido and Laurenna.
A question suddenly popped into Brendel’s mind. He asked Shido, “Miss Scholar, what was the reason for you to use your Magic Moonstone on those liquid monsters?”
Shido was unsettled by Brendel’s gaze. Her eyebrows quivered lightly like the hairs of a moth, before she managed to calm herself down. “I-I was only trying to activate them.”
“Duke of Trentheim,” Lenarette interrupted. He gave Brendel a look and said, “Miss Shido is the heiress of House Thun. Do you need me to remind you how us people of Kirrultz protect our honor?”
Brendel turned around to meet the prince’s condescending stare. “It used to be blood and steel, but right now it’s arrogance and discrimination, no?”
“Please stop arguing,” said Shido. “Mr Brendel?”
Brendel shook his head in response. “Please understand, Ms Shido, I am not accusing you of anything. I was just wondering what gave you the idea to use your Magic Moonstone.”
Shido’s eyes sparkled as she said, “Oh, it’s because I noticed something.”
“What was it?”
“It was… it was something strange. I’m sure you would want to take a look at it.” Shido paused. “I’m sorry for not speaking up before. I was getting flustered, so it must have slipped my mind.”
“It’s fine.” It was just as Brendel expected. He turned back to stare ahead, his eyes scouting the darkness in front of him as the light of the torch chased it away.
It seemed that he had obtained his answer.
At the other side of the cave —
The young leader swept his gaze over the skeleton that was partially concealed by the shadows. The skeleton was slightly taller than five feet, and the others were no taller than six feet either. These were not the remains of Frost Giants.
He lowered the torch so the flickering light allowed them to see the corpse in its entirety. The first skeleton wore a robe. It was frozen to the ground like a sheet of paper. Brendel knelt down to tear off a piece. The fabric felt strange in his grasp, as if it were not made of cotton.
“This is Lunsha linen,” Shido’s voice echoed. She too had been studying the corpse with much attention. “It is well known for its slanted patterns -”
“You are familiar with these?” asked Brendel as he continued to study the cloth.
“No, embroidery is not within the limits of my knowledge, but they -”
“They are very famous products,” Brendel smoothly interjected.
Shido looked at him in shock.
“These are the remains of humans?” Veronica asked.
“But why would humans appear here?” Laurenna asked with great curiosity.
“Maybe they were adventurers,” claimed Filas. “Famous adventurers are often drawn to mysterious places such as this like moths to a flame. More often than not, they too perish like those moths. I’ve heard of many stories like this.”
Laurenna said exasperatedly, “This isn’t exactly a story.”
“Ms Laurenna is right. Adventurers are only lured by the prospect of riches, not because of some whimsical dream,” Medissa said coldly, her usual smile present on her face. “In our generation, adventurers were no different from grave robbers, naturally their reputation would bad too.”
“It’s still the same now.” Laurenna stared at her fiance.
Filas kept her mouth shut, shrugging in defeat.
“These people are not adventurers, are they?” Instead of arguing with the youths, Veronica asked Brendel softly.
“Their attire has already told us that.” Brendel looked at her amusingly. “I’m sure that you can make out their armor?”
“They are soldiers, but whose soldiers? Aouine, or the Highland Knights?”
“Do you see this?” Brendel held up the piece of fabric in his hand and shook it.
“The linen?” Veronica furrowed her brows as she wondered about the significance of the cloth. But to no avail, she could not come to a conclusion.
Not wanting to waste too much time, Brendel explained, “The Lunsha linen plant can only be found on the northern bend of the Silver Lagoon. Even though this type of fabric is no longer in fashion, the plant is still very well known.”
He placed the cloth on the book in Shido’s hands. “Ms Shido, how about you explain the rest?”
“Oh, er I-I…” Shido spluttered for a moment before composing herself. “Lunsha linen is famous because the people of Miirna used to plant them a lot. It was often used to make the clothes of their royal family.”
“Miirna?” Veronica’s interest was piqued. “Brendel, didn’t you say you were from Miirna?”
“The people of Miirna were humans too. The humans now are all their descendants. Kirrlutz, Aouine, or even the mountain tribes, all of their appearances and height are the same as the Miirnans, even more so when they are skeletons,” said Brendel.
“So you’re saying that the legend of the Miirnans passing through the glacier is true?”
Brendel suddenly remembered the dream that he had. The image of the massive gorge floated in his mind. A group of black-robed Miirnans was gathering at the gorge while conducting a strange dance, followed by a group of priests carrying a golden box.
The Miirnans were chanting at the top of their lungs, but the sound was unable to pierce through the dream. They continued their murky chanting until, with a final shout, they tossed the box into the mouth of the gorge.
Brendel shook his head, trying to clear his mind of the dream.
He had a feeling that the Miirnans who died here had some sort of connection to his dream. However, he did not want to spend too much time thinking about it. “Shido, did you notice anything else on their bodies?”
“I found out that their armor and weapons are completely devoid of any magical energy, and also this…” The scholar walked towards one of the corpses and picked up a small pouch. She shook the bag, pouring out its contents.
It was a bunch of gemstones. However, they were all dull and looked as if they were made of glass.
“Miirnans used Magic Crystals as a form of currency, but the magical energy have long since dissipated from these gems.”
Brendel took a look at the crystals and immediately understood. “No, the magical energy must have been sucked out. So you think that -”
He raised his head, looking at the puddles of silver liquid on the ground.
Shido nodded her head.