Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
Somewhere in Dragon Clouds City.
This was a dim passage. Only one solitary Everlasting Lamp could be found, and it barely illuminated the mud walls on both sides. The walls were so mottled and old they looked like they would collapse at any moment.
A youngster sat silently by this Everlasting Lamp. He was staring at a dagger in his hand. The narrow passage could only allow two people to go through, and it looked like a crack wedged between two walls. The ground was covered in dust, and it seemed like nobody had been there for a while.
‘This is a secret underground passage hidden beneath the chess room’s cellar. To think they were able to build this,’ the youngster thought.
‘But I play chess here every month. Why haven’t the Archduchess’ Guards responsible for searching and clearance discovered this place? Furthermore when this place was chosen, Nicholas must have examined its history long ago?’
*Thump, thump, thump*
The sound of footsteps traveled into his ear. The youngster stopped the movements of his hands, slowly put the dagger back into its sheath, and buckled it back on his belt.
The line on the sheath shone amid the flickering light. ‘A king does not gain respect by virtue of his bloodline.’
*Thump, thump, thump*
The footsteps drew closer.
Thales heaved a sigh and turned his head to the other end of the dim passage.
That place was located far away from the source of light, and there was only darkness.
As the pair of feet stopped walking, a vague figure appeared in the darkness.
“You should get a good rest, Your Highness. Regain your strength,” the newcomer said flatly. His voice was brisk. “There’s still a long way ahead of you.”
The young prince snorted.
Quietly, he stood up and patted the dust off his body. “This is certainly not the same as what we agreed upon.”
Thales looked at the newcomer’s seemingly familiar features and special crimson eyes. “Raphael Lindbergh,” he said coldly.
As Thales spoke, the member of the Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Department, whom he had not met in six years, stepped out of the pitch-black passage. His whole body was revealed before the Everlasting Lamp.
Thales scrutinized Raphael.
Six years did not seem to bring great changes to this Barren Bone man who lived in darkness.
He still wore a white robe. His mannerisms elegant, and his bearings calm and composed. Only when he saw the flashing light did he subconsciously frown, but only slightly.
“Indeed. So this isn’t the perfect escape that we imagined, it’s even extremely risky.”
Raphael’s crimson eyes swept past Thales, who still had a teenager’s figure. His expression was calm and collected. “But whose fault do you think this is, Your Highness?”
Thales’ expression changed. “Whose fault? Don’t act stupid, Raphael. You know what I’m saying.
“Five thousand cavalry units closed in on the City of Faraway Prayers from the Great Desert, providing support to the Alliance of Freedom,” the prince’s voice was as cold as ice. “It gave the Northlanders a huge surprise, didn’t it?
“And do you know how many people told me, told their prince in hostage about this beforehand?”
Raphael rose his eyebrows slightly.
Thales’ lips curled upwards, and he swung his finger in the air vigorously. Then he formed a number with that finger in contempt, and enunciated each word clearly, “Zero. Zero! Not A… Single… Person… Told… Me!”
In a chilling voice, he said, “This was something dozens of empty-headed, fierce-looking Northlandic men told me. Together!”
As if he was pondering over something, Raphael looked above him.
“Five thousand cavalry units?” He moved a little. “So this is the quality of the Northlanders’ intelligence network?”
The unconcerned attitude of the member of the Secret Intelligence Department caused Thales to become furious.
“What, don’t tell me that those cavaliers and the Double Cross-Shaped Stars Flag that almost killed me were all fake, all feigned?”
The prince shrugged and snorted in disdain. “And the kingdom didn’t dispatch troops?”
Amid the flickering light, Raphael silently glanced at him a few times before he sighed faintly. “Those troops were indeed real, and also sent by Constellation.
“But those who set off from the Western Desert and Blade Fangs Camp, advanced into the desert from the west were at most one to two thousand cavalry units.
“As for the others, it was probably infantrymen or false information created by the Northlanders.” Raphael began to laugh. “Five thousand cavaliers? Hah. The amount of expenses required to send that number of cavalry units is enough to squeeze half the kingdom dry.”
The Barren Bone man spread his arms. His sleeves were as tight as before, firmly covering his wrists. Thales could not help but recall the brand on the other party’s wrists and that strange thing.
As Thales observed Raphael’s smile, he schooled his expression.
‘He’s smiling. He doesn’t care at all,’ Thales glared at Raphael as he told himself.
The dissatisfaction in the prince’s heart gradually rose.
“That isn’t the point, and it’s not funny.”
Thales narrowed his eyes and raised a finger. His tone grew increasingly angry, “Do you know that as a target to vent their anger on, I was almost torn into pieces at the Hall of Heroes by the indignant Northlanders”
In his dim field of vision, Raphael shook his head with a ghost of a smile. “They wouldn’t do that”
But Thales did not care about his interruption at all. Instead, with a trembling finger, he continued while suppressing his rage, “And I was almost brought to the City of Faraway Prayers, bound and thrown before two armies in order to force Constellation to retreat?”
The prince’s final words were spoken rather loudly. It was rather piercing to the ears of those in the narrow passage.
Raphael stared at the prince and slowly schooled his expression. “Your Highness, everything we do is to safely bring you back to your country”
“Right, the method is to let the Northlanders hang me first, then you’ll come and collect my body,” Thales sneered. The sarcastic implication could be heard very clearly. “That’s very safe.”
Raphael’s expression changed.
“Please believe me. The Secret Intelligence Department has its own appropriate measures and arrangements,” his tone gradually turned serious. “But I can say with certainty that it is definitely not by the current crude and direct method, one which we only used because we had no other choice.”
The member of the Secret Intelligence Department said in a cold voice, “As I just said, Your Highness, whose fault do you think this belongs to?”
Thales completely disregarded the other party’s rhetorical question. He continued to laugh coldly. “‘Appropriate measures and arrangements’? How motivating. Just like Dragon’s Blood six years ago, right?”
Upon hearing that code name for the operation, which had not surfaced in a while, Raphael was stunned for a moment.
The prince leaned against the wall, turned his head to the other side and snorted in anger. “The thrice cursed Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Department.”
Raphael remained silent for a long time until he sucked in a breath and slowly began to speak, “You’re accusing us of concealing information. Your Highness, you think this accident was the Secret Intelligence Department’s wrongdoing.”
“But let’s turn this around.” A strange light flashed in Raphael’s red pupils. “Do you really keep no secrets from us?”
Thales was stunned momentarily. Slowly, he turned his head around.
Raphael stared back at him with a chilling gaze. “Up until this afternoon, we still thought everything was going smoothly until the news came. Only then did we know about the good things you’ve done in the palace with Lampard.”
Raphael’s voice was also laced with a sharp, and criticizing tone, “Until we received news that you left the palace.
“Caught off guard, we had no choice but to deploy our emergency action plan as well as employ the most horrible backup plan: take the risk and rescue you!”
Thales did not speak.
Raphael took a light step forward. His gaze was cold and biting.
“For the past two months, since you boarded Black Sand Region’s carriage, you’ve known that Lampard’s been hiding in the city. You even reached an agreement with him in secret and together, interfered with the internal affairs of Dragon Clouds City as well as Eckstedt until you were supposed to be transferred to Black Sand Region.”
Thales felt a chill run down his spine. He instantly sensed that something bad was about to happen.
The Barren Bone man flatly said, “How much did you tell us regarding these things, regarding the conspiracy between you and Lampard, and regarding the reason why you were forced to cooperate with him, Your Highness?”
As he stared into Raphael’s eyes, Thales suddenly felt apprehensive.
‘Damn it. That’s true. Lampard and my secret meeting, the schemes made for Little Rascal… These things, including the archduchess’ identity
‘But how could I have told you all about those things?’
Thales took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.
He forced himself to calm down. “My affairs with Black Sand Region were an accident.”
Raphael’s eyebrows twitched. “An accident?”
Thales pouted and nodded in a bad mood. “Yes. Your accident prior to mine caused me to do all those things! All right?
“If it wasn’t for those five thousand No, two thousand cavaliers that you brought over, which caused the entire situation to take an abrupt turn down south, the archduchess wouldn’t have been forced into a corner. Then, I wouldn’t have been forced to seek help from Lampard!”
The prince snorted coldly. He tried hard to switch the topic.
‘No,’ he said silently in his heart, ‘he knows.’
More accurately speaking, Thales had already recorded this fact in his mind a long time ago: there was a high chance that the plan they formed with Ian would encounter unforeseen circumstances in the Hall of Heroes.
For Little Rascal, Lampard was a hidden trump card he had to flip open when she was forced into a corner. And once this card was revealed, the Secret Intelligence Department was bound to find out about his involvement with Lampard.
The Secret Intelligence Department would not turn a blind eye; they would definitely take action.
Thales patted the personal belongings in his bosom, which he had packed earlier. He sighed in his heart. He was long prepared for the Secret Intelligence Department to rescue him.
This time, Raphael stared at him for a long time. It was as if he wanted to find out some sort of secret.
Thales only turned his head around, seething in anger. He looked like a sulking teenager.
Eventually, Raphael withdrew his scrutinizing gaze.
“Then perhaps you shouldn’t have gotten so deeply involved with the political situation in Dragon Clouds City,” Raphael flatly said.
In a different manner, he gazed at the prince with a derisive stare. “Even if you and the archduchess possess a certain unexplainable relationship, you womanizing prince.”
Thales was shocked before he was instantly rendered speechless. “I, the archduchess and I”
But he, who had lost his temper due to embarrassment, reacted with his quick wit. He immediately found a way for him to counter-attack and shift the topic. “Womanizing?
“Hey, six years ago, I wasn’t the one who kissed Lady Arunde for a whole minute in public in Heroic Spirit Palace!”
Raphael’s expression changed.
He frowned and coughed, shaking off some dust from atop his head.
The both of them were silent for a while.
Thales was gasping for air quietly. He was hoping that this would wrap up the other party’s interrogation.
Not without sarcasm, Raphael sighed and said, “If you had been slightly merciful and opened your honorable mouth to tell us lowly servants who work ourselves to the bone for the Secret Intelligence Department about Lampard’s matters earlier
“Then perhaps we could have adapted a little earlier, and things wouldn’t have turned out so bad?”
Thales raised an eyebrow and spread both his arms with an expression that said, “I have nothing to say to you”.
“All right.” The prince made a gesture that indicated he was putting an end to the conversation. Seemingly in despair, he said, “I know now. Nothing good will come out of this if we continue like this.
“This discussion is over. It ends here.”
He turned around as he leaned against the wall and shook his head with his arms crossed.
Raphael did not say anything. Shortly after, Thales broke the silence again.
“Hey, that black-robed one with twin swords… When I escaped into the chess room, I saw him fall into the guards’ encirclement.” The prince did not even turn around as he quietly said, “Is he all right?”
‘No,’ Thales said in his heart. ‘The former White Blade Guards under Nicholas are all not to be messed with. In order to create the opportunity for me to secretly escape below the chess room, that guy’s most probably’
Raphael furrowed his eyebrows slightly, but did not say a word until Thales looked at him impatiently. Then, Raphael scoffed softly. “You didn’t recognize him?”
Thales was stunned. “Who? That black-robed figure?”
Raphael narrowed his eyes and bared his teeth. “Very well, if even you can’t see through his disguise do not worry, he’ll be safe.”
Thales froze for a moment.
‘Disguise? If that’s the case that black-robed man is someone I know? Could it be…’
Thales shook his head and chased away the image of the masked figure in his heart. ‘It’s impossible. That black-robed person had a slim stature and he held two thin swords in his hands. It can’t be him.’
At this moment, Thales suddenly recalled something. He raised his head. “Raiding Lampard’s innwas that your way to draw away attention?”
Upon hearing this, Raphael’s expression turned cold.
“Yes, one suicidal attack with guaranteed failure,” his voice was rather quiet. “We thought of all the methods that could decrease the strength of the protectors around you.”
The flame from the lamp moved slightly, elongating the shadows of the two people on the wall.
A good while later, the prince exhaled. “How many casualties?”
Raphael shook his head and did not say a word.
Thales’ complexion also turned cold.
Silence resumed in the passage again.
“I’m sorry,” the prince could only force these two words out after a long while.
Raphael shut his eyes and shook his head.
“They all knew what they had to do,” the member of the Secret Intelligence Department sounded dejected. “For the operation this time, the Secret Intelligence Department even gave up their headquarters in Dragon Clouds City. We sacrificed a huge portion of our intelligence network.”
Bewilderment rose in Thales’ heart. “Headquarters?”
Raphael gestured with his chin as he extended a finger and tapped on the irregular, mud wall by his side. “This is it.”
Thales was stunned.
He looked around as he sized up the dim passage.
The prince asked curiously, “But isn’t this under the Spear District chess room, which I come to every month?”
As a reply, Raphael nodded as if he was in deep thought. The usual calm and indifferent expression returned to his face.
“Wait a minute, you mean…” Thales widened his eyes in disbelief and observed his surroundings. “The chess room above our heads, the place I come to play chess every month is the Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Department’s headquarters in Dragon Clouds City?
“Right in Spear District? Somewhere just a few steps away from Heroic Spirit Palace?”
He tapped on the utterly dilapidated mud wall again. “You can’t possibly believe that the owner of the chess room just happened to be bored, so he built this tunnel underneath the basement?
“Also, you couldn’t have possibly thought that when you raised a request to Dragon Clouds City and got approval from the Archduchess, the disciplinary hall officer responsible for picking the site, just so happened to report this newly opened chess room to Lisban?”
Thales stared at Raphael in a daze. “So”
Raphael’s eyes twinkled. He nodded with certainty. “Yes, the safest place is always right under the enemy’s nose.
“Let’s take the Dragon’s Blood from six years ago as an example. Everything from the beginning of the operation, to the modifications; decision making; execution of the plans and even the final allocation of manpower as well as intelligence; imitating Lampard’s warrants; infiltrating the gatehouse the enemy occupied to bring out a certain willful, unlucky prince; and the arrangements for evacuation were all communicated and prepared here.”
Raphael shot him a glance with hidden implications before he snorted lightly and shook his head.
Automatically, Thales overlooked the other party’s utterance of “a certain unlucky prince”. He silently observed his surroundings. ‘Mottled mud walls, a hidden passage, a solitary Everlasting Lamp.
‘So that’s how it is.
‘So for the past six years, all the secret messages I sent to the Secret Intelligence Department came to this place’
“But Nicholas should’ve searched this place meticulously? He didn’t find anything?”
The prince frowned as he said, “Especially since I come here every month. The guards always turn this place upside down. How could they have missed this tunnel?”
Raphael laughed again. “It wasn’t a chess room before this.
“This place… Its history as the Dragon Clouds City Headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Department during the underground battle between Constellation and the Dragon, its history in providing assistance to countless intelligence operations, and sheltering countless Constellation spies has lasted more than one hundred and sixty years already.”
Thales was a little taken by surprise.
Once he said that, the Barren Bone man of the Secret Intelligence Department seemed rather sentimental. “During this period of time, no matter how big of an operation it was, we never moved our headquarters. This place has also never been exposed.
“If the Star Killer really wanted to find something and rummaged through a reconstructed record of Dragon Clouds City’s Spear District from a hundred over years ago, which talks about an architect of the Anlenzo Dukedom whose female cousin married a Constellatiate and was responsible for constructing this place, then perhaps he would have found something. But of course, the records accidentally went missing many years ago.
“As to why they couldn’t find the tunnelthis place is our final passage of escape. It was dug decades ago. Only the last layer of dirt hasn’t been dug out.” Raphael’s focus returnedto the present, and his pupils contracted.
“This morning, when we found out about the mishap in the palace, I decided to dig through this layer of dirt.
“And as I had expected”
Raphael’s words came to a stop. He did not finish speaking.
‘The headquarters, which has never been moved for more than a hundred years’
Thales was staring at him quietly, but he was sighing profusely in his heart.
He furrowed his eyebrows and asked, “If that’s what you’re saying, then the area under this headquarters leads to every direction?”
The Barren Bone man looked at the second prince in disdain and scoffed. “Do you honestly think tunnels are so fun to build, and that generations of Dragon Clouds City’s archdukes, generations of the Secret Room’s leaders, including the Star Killer and his people, are all idiots?
“Back in those days, to not attract any suspicion, this tunnel was excavated on and off for many years. It was almost discovered several times otherwise, we would have actually liked to connect it with the secret passage in the gatehouse. Then, we could have even snuck into Heroic Spirit Palace to assassinate an archduke or something”
Thales inhaled and laughed.
However, he shook his head immediately after. He lamented rather greatly as he sighed, “But, for the operation this time our headquarters here had to be decommissioned.”
Thales’ gaze shifted. ‘Decommissioned?’
Raphael seemed to have understood his gaze.
He faintly said, “You went missing nearby. Even though nobody will notice for a short while, the Star Killer and his former White Blade Guards will come back to investigate this place again sooner or later. Once they realize the peculiarity here, forget the Secret Room and the other forces of power who would come once they hear the news. Once these people put aside the conflicts between themselves for you, they’ll be able to track down the truth in no time.
“The headquarters would be exposed eventually.”
“If the headquarters was to be decommissioned, all the people, plans, objects, channels, locations, and nearly everything the Secret Intelligence Department owns here subsequently retire,” Raphael’s eyes were downcast, and his voice was hoarse.
“Without a doubt, Dragon Clouds City will perform a purge after this event.
“And this Dragon Clouds City headquarters, which has lasted for a hundred and sixty years, everything the Secret Intelligence Department has worked for in this place for over a hundred years, will most probably have to vanish like smoke in thin air.”
Raphael snorted lightly, and his emotions were unknown. “Just because of this hasty and stupid plan to save you.”
Once he heard the other party’s words, Thales lowered his head silently. He could not say a single word.