Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
‘Thales. You have let your guard down; you slack; you have become lazy.’
As he stared at King Chapman’s calm and cold expression, Thales, with a weary look on himself and while feeling grief in his heart, suddenly realized this about himself.
Even if he believed that he was quite vigilant in the past six years, and remained in fear under the scrutiny of the Northlanders and their gossip, compared to the hazardous days when he was forced to fight for his life, the prince’s still lived a far too satisfactorily and relaxing life at the present.
It was uncertain when this began. Not even Thales himself had realized that he had grown accustomed to this slow, unhurried pace. As a result, when faced with a formidable foe like Chapman Lampard in comparison to the nerve-wrecking game of wits six years ago, he seemed powerless and perplexed after having been away from the battle zone for too long.
Thales even began to suspect that Lampard came to see him in such a daring and abrupt manner just to take the unprepared prince by surprise.
“You know…” King Chapman was not bothered by the prince’s facial expression as he sat opposite him in the carriage. He nodded contentedly. “You have admitted that instead of playing dumb, which is good.”
A menacing glint flashed in his eyes. “It saves me the time for an ‘on-site testing’ of the impact of this truth.”
Thales’ expression turned unpleasant.
The prince breathed absentmindedly. It had been six years. Lampard fought a battle of life and death with archdukes and vassals from the highest ranks in this country. He had trained and honed himself to be more skillful and masterful in grave situations where one could lose everything with one misstep.
On the other hand, he, the Prince of Constellation who was known as a guest but was in fact a hostage and a chess piece, was imprisoned in the highest location of a well-known city for six years.
With the protection and company of his personal guards, under the surveillance and enforced isolation of several parties, he spent his days in silence and solitude, accompanied by books and servants.
He could not be in contact with more people, could not obtain intel from places further away; he was distanced from the most dangerous and complicated games; he became lost and slowly rotted away in the fabricated illusion of peace.
‘In some way, Lampard has won. He spent six years constantly fighting, while snatching six years from my grasp.’ Thales clenched his fists.
‘Maybe’ There was a voice in Thales’ mind calling to him. ‘Maybe it’s time for me to leave. Leave Dragon Clouds City, back to
Thales lifted his gaze slightly, staring into King Chapman’s eyes with an impassive look.
‘Breathe, Thales, breathe. This game of chess is not at end; it is not yet time to give up. One can even say that the fight has only begun.
‘Isn’t that right, old friend?’
The familiar power of the Sin of Hell’s River dispersed into his nerves and blood vessels, spreading all over his body. It tingled like the blaze of an inferno, but was also as cold as the ice in the North Pole. It made Thales shudder.
‘Think carefully, Thales.’
Fear, anxiety, the feeling of defeat, dejection, astonishment, and countless other emotions faded from him instantly. Thales leaned back in his seat with his arms crossed. He frowned.
‘First of all,’ Thales thought coldly, ‘Lampard said that the Red Witch did not say a word to him. Is this true?’
If it was true, it would mean that the king had discovered the Dragon Clouds City’s biggest secret from another channel. He needed to confirm his suspicions.
King Chapman was calm and unfazed. He waited, amused, for the prince’s reply, as though he had everything in his clutches.
“You’re not sure either, right? With this leverage in hand, which can turn Dragon Clouds City and yourself upside-down, ‘on-site testing’ is just an empty threat,” Thales said with an indifferent look. “When did you begin to suspect it?”
King Chapman’s gaze showed a certain degree of interest.
“Since the first day itself.”
Thales clenched his teeth. ‘First day, which means’
“King Nuven’s ‘Triumph’, that onyx ring with the unique design, and which carries great meaning. Since Nuven the First, it symbolized the Walton legacy and the succession of power in Dragon Clouds City. It is worn by every Archduke of Dragon Clouds City at all times, passed down from generation to generation.”
The king’s voice was cold, giving Thales the illusion that a chill had run down his spine, even if it was not cold around him. “But that night, when my people laid the corpse into the coffin to be taken away, there was nothing on his finger.
“…until I saw you put the ring on that girl in the Hall of Heroes.”
Thales jolted, although it was barely noticeable. He remembered the confrontation in the hall.
“You suspected that I took the ring in secret and gave it to Saroma?” the prince said softly. “Isn’t this too random for a guess?”
King Chapman shook his head.
“No, I don’t think those former White Blade Guards would have dared to tamper with the king’s body, neither would they have allowed you to take an object of significant meaning that represented the Walton Family off Nuven’s body.
“Hence, ‘Triumph’ could only be taken down by King Nuven himself while he was alive and handed to his granddaughter.”
The emotion in King Chapman’s eyes became gradually threatening. “…which makes it even more suspicious.”
Thales’ expression turned grim. He figured out the key to this conversation: Lampard’s information was not from the Secret Room or the Red Witch this formidable lord discovered the secret on his own.
‘If that’s the case’
The king let out a cold snort. “If Nuven did not know he was about to die, why would he hastily take off the ring representing the Dragon Spear Family and secretly hand it to a girl who could not even gain the vassals’ trust?
“Isn’t it better for him to gather the vassals and pass down the ring in front of everyone, determine the heiress of the archduke in the name and honor of the Born King, then pave a way for the archduchess?
“Then I thought of you,” King Chapman said quietly. “The day the former king gave the ring, ‘Triumph’, to his granddaughter, you were in Dragon Clouds City as well, Thales Jadestar.”
The prince lowered his head, refusing to let Chapman see his expression.
“That night, the reason the former king passed the ring down to his granddaughter was to make sure you and the Jadestar Family witnessed that event, correct?
“He chose you, Thales.” Weirdly enough, King Nuven’s voice was filled with respect and disdain at the same time. “Because of the influence of the Jadestar Family and Constellation, and also your unique performance that night, he chose you to be his granddaughter’s husband, to be the husband of the future archduchess, so that even in his death, he could ensure that the Dragon Spear Family’s reign in Dragon Clouds City will continue with the help from Constellation. He wanted you to protect your in-laws.”
The prince could hear his heart race, thumping loudly against his chest. In that very second, the method of thinking he was once familiar with re-emerged in his mind.
‘During the conversation earlier, he tried to test the waters to find out whether I was engaged to Saroma. Then, he asked about my alliance with King Nuven. These two are all to’
“All these years, I’ve had doubts about this alliance established between you two,” King Chapman said in a chilly voice. “You were right about one thing, Thales. How would the heir of Constellation marry the Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City, when there are numerous objections surrounding their engagement?”
The king drew closer to Thales’ face, the prince could even see his own reflection in his eyes.
“There are two strange things about this. Firstly, how could you believe that this fragile alliance would still be effective and beneficial in the face of so many obstacles, especially when King Nuven’s life was coming to an end? Besides, can Eternal Star City truly interfere with Dragon Clouds City’s affairs with just a flimsy marriage?
“Secondly, how can King Nuven ensure that his decision was not him inviting danger into his territory, and whether or not the alliance formed would break apart after he died? How could he be certain that Constellation would not break their promise, reap all the benefits, and leave, or even bring the Walton Family and Dragon Clouds City to their knees to devastate Eckstedt?”
King Chapman sat back down. His intimidating speech had ended, leaving the carriage in an endless silence, as well as room for deep contemplation.
Thales narrowed his eyes a little.
‘Good, Lampard’s words about “not of true Walton blood” doesn’t mean he knows the whole truth.’
Six years ago, what happened in the Hall of Heroes that night was not as simple as an old king gifting his family name to a girl who was not his kin.
Alex’s pale face appeared before Thales’ eyes. He shifted his attention back to the king.
‘If that’s the case, then Lampard is only certain about’
It was his turn to make a move now. Thales took a deep breath in the gloomy carriage.
“A decent guess.” The Prince of Constellation chose his words carefully, constantly reminding himself what kind of existence his opponent was. “But you’re missing a piece.”
King Chapman raised an eyebrow.
Thales said flatly, “Kroesch. How much she has told you?”
A silence ensued in the carriage, the prince waited patiently.
As he expected, in the next moment, King Chapman’s face twitched. A hint of astonishment sparked in his eyes.
“Interesting.” King Chapman appeared taken by surprise. “How did you know about this?”
‘No, I don’t,’ Thales said to himself, ‘until you confirmed it for me.’
“When Kentvida had an audience with the archduchess,” Thales answered frankly, “That grim-faced lady warrior was behaving strangely: Her frustration towards the messenger, her attitude towards Kentvida, and the weird things she said to the archduchess at the end. Of course, then there was that sense of urgency when she invited me onto the carriage.”
King Chapman watched him in silence. A few seconds later, the common-elected king burst into chuckles.
“Esch is a very interesting girl. I have never seen someone as prideful as Lhasa intrigued by any woman. I guess there is something about the Tower of Eradication, isn’t there? A long time ago, Kaslan was also enchanted by a woman in the Tower of Eradication.”
Thales shook his head. He did not want to hear the king’s nonsense and went straight to the point. “I guess she introduced her father, Lord Byrne Mirk, to you?”
King Chapman’s eyelids fluttered.
“Wrong,” the king said, emitting a light snort. “We were discussing matters regarding the Alliance of Freedom, and Crown Prince Soria Walton who captured Fort Libert, was brought up.
“My lovely deputy captain of my personal guards told me that she grew up under the care of prince’s wife, Lady Adele. Of course, she also mentioned her father, Byrne Mirk, the loyal administrator to the former king,” King Chapman said in a deep voice, “And how he had worked so hard as a mediator in the unfortunate marriage between Prince Soria and his wife, protecting the poor lady and advising the cruel prince to treat her better.”
‘I see, so that’s how it is,’ Thales thought quietly, but another thought appeared in his head immediately afterwards. ‘No. If Kroesch knew that from the start, then there was absolutely no need for her to wait until’
“Who noticed there was something wrong?”
The prince asked quietly while remaining calm. “You can’t be certain of anything with just the memories of a woman from her childhood.”
King Chapman remained silent for three seconds. It was such a long pause that Thales could not help frowning.
This time, Chapman Lampard’s voice was soft and sounded like it drifted from far away, as though he was afraid to wake a deeply slumbering infant. “It was Harold.”
Thales was startled. “Harold?”
‘Wait, is he saying?’
The king let out a cold, enigmatic laugh. It sounded grievous, but also wrathful.
“When Prince Soria was assassinated, my brother, Harold Lampard, was the first person who arrived at the scene of the crime. Of course, the assassin was hidden among his guards, remember?”
King Chapman’s voice slowly became serene again, as though he was recounting an event that happened to another family.
“Harold described the tragedy to me once: the prince lay in the carriage, his body was stiff and covered in blood, all the while, his personal guard had his arms around his wife’s corpse, kneeling outside the carriage, gazing at the infant girl in her arms, wailing in a heart-wrenching manner.”
Thales did not speak.
Lampard let out a cold bark of laughter. “Lhasa was intrigued by this detail. Why would Lord Byrne Mirk, a then-White Blade Guard who was later the administrator, seem to care more about the prince’s wife?”
The prince’s expression turned grim. He was getting closer to obtaining all his clues.
“Following this clue, Lhasa also discovered that, after the king selection, after the archduchess succeeded the position, Administrator Mirk, who had been protecting Lady Walton for the past twelve years and was supposed to guard Dragon Clouds City with his life, disappeared. All these years, not even Esch knew of her father’s whereabouts, as if he was disheartened within a single night and turned his back on everything, including his oath as a White Blade Guard and his loyalty.”
The king’s speech continued.
“Soon enough, he found more clues. Some servants and guards in one certain area of the Heroic Spirit Palace had either died or went missing on the night of the calamity’s advent six years ago. Every single one of them.” King Chapman’s gaze was as sharp as a blade. “And they happened to be the personal attendants of the archduchess, and have served the girl since she was an infant.”
“Viscount Lhasa Kentvida.” Thales sighed. “Is this why people call him the ‘Night Falcon’? It suits him, because he is good at hunting for the truth in the darkest night when no one is looking.”
The king shook his head. He did not respond to that.
“Lhasa made a bold guess, Kroesch beat him three times for it. The current Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City is not Soria Walton’s daughter, but is of Administrator Mirk’s blood.”
King Chapman’s eyes shone with a chilling glint. “Let me guess, did Regent Lisban make him disappear forever to protect the secret of the bloodline?”
‘Good, he doesn’t know.’ Thales secretly said to himself, ‘He only knows half of the truth; he only knows about Alex, but he doesn’t know about Little Rascal… about Saroma.’
“You actually figured out the truth like this?” Thales rubbed his forehead with an anguished look, appearing helpless, and said, “There are so many talented people among your subordinates.”
The king picked up the hand-and-a-half sword beside him gently.
“Eventually, I understood the answer to these two mysteries. The marriage contract aside, to earn your trust and tempt you, King Nuven must have given you more: he gave you a bargaining chip that could destroy Dragon Clouds City and the Waltons so that even a loyal vassal like Lisban would be kept on his toes. It will also allow Eternal Star City to control the restless Dragon Clouds City from afar, even after King Nuven’s demise.
“And you were all fairly satisfied with this arrangement.”
King Chapman shook his head. It was uncertain whether he was lamenting about this or was amused by it. “I think it was one of the reasons the Red Witch betrayed the former king, although she never admitted to it.”
Thales heaved a deep sigh. The situation on the battlefield was now crystal clear.
“In short, this is a secret that can erase the legitimacy of the Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City and weaken the legitimacy of the common-elected king. We are holding each other’s secrets,” Thales said impassively. “I guess, you want to get Dragon Clouds City on your side, or at least not on Roknee’s side.
“Ah, Thales, we have known each other for a very long time.” King Chapman snorted lightly. “We have fought against each other more than once in this game, this allows us to understand one another.”
The prince inhaled deeply and shook his head. “Why should I help you?This is just about your feud with Dragon Clouds City.” He shrugged, indifferent. “You want to burn with Dragon Clouds City? Go ahead, I can stay out of it.”
Chapman let out a cold laugh. “Even if the demise of the Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City and my downfall will mean that all hopes and benefits you could gain from Dragon Clouds City will be destroyed with it, and in succession, Constellation’s hopes and the benefits they could gain from Dragon Clouds City will also be destroyed?” the king said meaningfully.
“Expectations from Dragon Clouds City?” Thales chuckled. Without backing down, he retorted, “I’m not even the king. It’s still too soon to talk about this.”
King Chapman narrowed his eyes. His gaze became thought-provoking.
“True, you’re not the king yet, but you have already done so much for Dragon Clouds City”
In the next second, the king’s tone of voice changed. His words gave off a strange and mysterious vibe. “But what if I tell you that your efforts to help the archduchess inherit her title and all your work to maintain everything in Dragon Clouds City, everything you are working so hard to sustain, was built on a terrifying lie?
“Whereas everything you think you know is actually a joke that was set on the foundation of an oath for someone else?”
In that very second, as he looked at King Chapman’s expression, Thales frowned slightly. He instinctively sensed that something was wrong.
“What do you mean?” The prince clenched his fists subconsciously.
‘A joke set on a foundation? No’
“I remember what you said when you turned down my proposal during our first meeting: be wary of people who want to be your allies…” King Chapman’s expression was as chilly as ice. “No matter how friendly, amiable, and earnest they seem.”
Thales’ frown tightened.
“Thales, Thales,” King Chapman uttered impassively with a chilling tone while he shook his head. “You really think that our respectable former king, Nuven Walton, was a trustworthy ally?”
Thales’ breathing gradually became fainter.
“You think he would be so generous as to place a gambit that could destroy his family in your hands, trusting you with all his heart, believing that you would protect the Walton Family at all costs?
“You think that you made a good deal that would benefit both parties. You obtained a wife representing Dragon Clouds City while he ensured the continuity of the Waltons’ influence. You think you each got what you needed?
“You think that Nuven would tolerate a person not of his blood to sit on the archduke’s seat, that he only cared about an arbitrary and meaningless family name?” The king said softly, “You have underestimated our former king.”
Thales gazed at King Chapman doubtfully, confused.
“If you do not have anything else to say”
“Moriah is still alive,” the king said quietly.
In that moment, when he heard that rather unfamiliar name, Thales was slightly startled, because he was unable to wrap his head around it.
Feeling uneasy, he asked subconsciously, “Who?”
A strange and horrifying expression appeared on King Chapman’s face. In the next second, the king uttered a name softly,
“Moriah. Moriah Walton.”
‘Mo Moriah?’ Thales pondered this name. His face paled instinctively.
‘What? That’s, that’s’
“When I first found out, I was more aghast than you are.”
The king went on as if he had not just revealed something shocking, “Yes, I’m talking about the Eckstedtian prince who was assassinated in Constellation, whose death was the beginning of all this six years ago; which brought about a series of drastic changes to our countries, lay the foundations to our fates, and turned you into a hostage.”
In that second, King Chapman’s eyes burned with a terrifying blaze. “He’s still alive.”
Time seemed to stop in that instant. It was like even the air in the carriage had frozen in this horrid moment. Thales was utterly stunned.
‘What is he talking about? That prince? That Prince Moriah who was assassinated by Lampard, Poffret, Arunde, and Constellation’s New Star? He’s still alive?
‘If that’s the case’
A terrifying thought instantly crept into his mind. Only the heavens knew just how much effort Thales had to exert to stop himself from shivering, and his expression from changing drastically.
Several seconds later, with a sullen face and a glare, Thales spoke in disbelief. “You- This… This is impossible.”
“Don’t you understand, Thales?” King Chapman’s eyes flashed with barely contained anger. He enunciated his every word as if he was biting down his greatest hatred. “It doesn’t matter whether it was the deceased former king, Lisban, or the Star Killer, all these people in Dragon Clouds City know and understand it clearly.”
Thales’ mind barely managed to keep his cognitive abilities, though with much difficulty and while in great shock and surprise.
“They know this full well, and they are waiting calmly for the day Prince Moriah returns. Before he returns, they used a fake archduchess to protect the Walton Family’s power. At the same time, they are also pretending to be polite with you to obtain Constellation’s help.”
Chapman the First’s words were like a most terrifying poison that had gone inside every inch of Thales’ thoughts. “From the start right up to the end, there are only two people who are in the dark, completely ignorant of this.
“That is why I came to you, Thales.” The king stared at Thales whose expression had practically frozen up. He swept his gaze over Thales’ slightly shuddering left hand placed on his knee. “You, and that pitiful archduchess. The both of you are only puppets controlled by King Nuven’s hands.
“Constellation believes that they are in control of a chip that will allow them to control Dragon Clouds City and are working hard to maintain their relationship with the city. They earnestly support the Walton Family’s rule and hope that they will obtain the rewards one day when their king marries the archduchess.
“But years later, when Moriah returns, his legitimacy will overpower everything. The existence of the archduchess will be rendered useless. Your marriage will turn into a laughingstock, and the promise you obtained from King Nuven will be proven to just be a stupid joke. Everything that all of you built will be reduced to ash in a single day.”
Thales could only say to himself. ‘He’s lying. He’s definitely lying… So that he can make me’
Thales still stared at the king incredulously. He felt as if he had returned to that terrifying night.
The spasming Alex. The wailing Mirk. The coldly sneering King Nuven. And
Saroma- No, Little Rascal and the ring in her hand.
In that moment, the prince felt as if his thoughts were about to go completely blank.
“I mentioned this before. I know my uncle too well, unlike you who only got to know him for one short day. Nuven has everyone dancing in his palm.”
The king caressed the hand-and-a-half sword on his knees and hissed his next words with a cold sneer. “He used an unprecedented lie and obtained your trust; with a bait that seems sincere and sweet, he obtained your resolve and loyalty. From your self-righteous thoughts, the Great Dragon obtained the prey he desired the most.”
King Chapman lifted his right hand slowly and gradually furled his hand into a fist.
“This is King Nuven’s real method and plan. It is the former king’s ‘present’.”
In the next moment, Chapman Lampard clenched his right fist tightly, as though he had just seized someone’s throat.
While he was dripping in cold sweat due to his horror, Thales felt his breath shudder as well.
In the darkness, King Chapman’s colorless face blossomed into an unpleasant, cold smile.
“Welcome to the cruel, real world, Guardian of Dragon Clouds City, Prince Thales.”