Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
A long time seemed to pass, but Thales continued to stare blankly at Putray. He could not utter a single sentence.
The smile Putray gave him was filled with wrinkles, which came with age.
“So, this was all for me,” Thales began to speak sluggishly. There were remnants of faint astonishment and distress in his eyes. “All of Constellation mobilizing a huge army, the civil unrest of the Alliance of Freedom provoking all of Eckstedt, the sudden frequent communications from the Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Department, they’re all”
Thales stared blankly at the dust-covered inner walls around him.
He finally connected them. He finally made everything connect again.
‘King Chapman’s authority, the internal strife in Dragon Clouds City, the City of Faraway Prayers coming here to sow discord, the sudden revolt from the Alliance of Freedom…
‘Lampard insisted on bringing me to Black Sand Region, but it’s not just because he wanted the bargaining chip of the war to the west in his hands.
‘He may have guessed it. Perhaps, the moment he heard about Constellation’s troops entering the desert, he successfully guessed it…
‘Apart from the complicated relationship among the threeDragon Clouds City, Black Sand Region and the City of Faraway Prayersthe true reason that pulled Constellation into this chess game shrouded by a thick fog of mystery, and caused the Western Peninsula’s Shield into joining the match…
‘Is me preciselythe Second Prince, Thales Jadestar.’
Thales fell silent.
As he watched the expression on the prince’s face, Raphael snorted lightly through his nose. “What? Are you overwhelmed? Flattered?”
Putray coughed and cast a dissatisfied glance at Raphael.
Thales took a deep breath and came to his senses.
“Yes, just a little bit. Though it sounds weird saying it this way, but”
Slowly, Thales leaned against the wall as if to ease his swiftly fluctuating emotions. He was seen forcing himself to smile, and he spoke as if he was talking to thin air, “Heh, it’s been six years since I turned into a certain unlucky prince. I didn’t expect that there’d be a day where I would receive such grand treatment.”
Thales, who had slid down to the ground, pursed his lips absentmindedly. “Heh.”
When he heard Thales speaking in a tone filled with complex emotions, Putray frowned slightly.
“In short,” Putray continued as if nothing had happened, “Once the night is over, we will”
But Thales raised his head suddenly and interrupted him.
The prince sighed faintly. “So… the Secret Intelligence Department sacrificed nearly all their sources of intelligence and may have even sacrificed a lot of their people.”
When he heard this sentence, Raphael knitted his eyebrows tighter and tighter together.
“The Kingdom even dispatched thousands of elite troops and cleared the desert in an unprecedented manner, just to open up a path for me to go back.”
Putray was momentarily unable to adapt to Thales’ stiff tone.
Thales, who sat on the ground raised his head slowly. There was a sparkle in his eyes, and it shone with an unknown emotion.
The prince slowly inhaled a breath of air. His expression turned back to normal. Yet, it caused the other two to feel increasingly uneasy. “Moreover, your act of sending your army into the desert and closing in on the borders of the City of Faraway Prayers is no different from lending Lampard a hand. He didn’t just dodge the disaster brought by the City of Faraway Prayers, he even defeated the city, subdued Black Sand Region, intimidated the Kingdom of the Great Dragon, and gained an authority in Eckstedt so great that he left the other nine archdukes in the dust.
“And as a result”
Thales’ expression tensed, his gaze solemn. “The true enemy of ConstellationChapman Lampard… From today onwards, that exuberantly ambitious, frightening common-elected king, who aspires to rebuild Eckstedt and destroy Constellation, will grow increasingly powerful. He will become even stronger than he was before.
“Intelligence, military affairs, politics, foreign affairs and even our future So many sacrifices just to get an invisible prince who has been silent for six years in a foreign country out?”
At that moment, Thales seemed to be talking to himself, “Is it worth it?”
The prince turned to his two subjects, and his gaze was calm.
Raphael’s expression was tense, whereas Putray cast his eyes downwards and remained silent.
The silence lasted for a long time.
The shadows cast by the Everlasting Lamp swayed back and forth, making a very apt representation of the atmosphere at hand.
“Hmph.” The Barren Bone kinsman of the Secret Intelligence Department shook his head in disdain.
Raphael stared at the prince who had not been particularly easy to deal with for the last six years. His tone was indifferent, “Since the accident six years ago, it became very clear to us that it was simply impossible to just exchange you, the sole heir who could affect the future of the Kingdom, without paying any price.”
He changed the topic, “Yet, after making so many sacrifices and arriving at this juncture, this is the only sentence we’ve obtained in return? ‘Is it worth it?'”
Thales’ expression darkened slightly.
Raphael crossed his arms. His gaze was sharp as he swept his eyes over Thales and looked down at him. “Don’t you feel like this is just too”
However, Putray began to speak all of a sudden and cut Raphael’s words off.
“I don’t know.”
The attention of the other two was directed at Putray. They looked at him, puzzled.
Putray still had his head lowered, but he spoke slowly with a serious tone, which was rarely heard from him, “But you need to ask yourself.
“Ask yourself that question, Thales Jadestar.”
Thales paused momentarily.
“The six years wasted in vain with you being alone outside, being reduced into a hostage in exchange for the good health of thousands upon thousands of lives living at the border between the two countries. You had to work hard to live, but in exchange, you brought a period of peace for Constellation, allowing the internal structure of the country to be able to enjoy a long span of stability, in turn allowing it to recuperate.” Putray sighed.
“Is it worth it?”
Thales was stunned. He looked at Putray, trying to read his face and obtain more information from his expression.
The former vice diplomat of his diplomat group lifted his head slowly. Under the illumination of the waning light, Putray’s face seemed solemn and sharp.
He no longer looked like the middle-aged man who assumed an air of self-importance due to being an elder. He no longer mocked him mercilessly, and no longer spoke with that deliberate, mysterious tone.
“Similarly, you are the only one who can answer your own question.
“Yes, to rescue you, we paid an extremely hefty price.” Putray stared at him with brightly burning eyes. “And if you feel like you cannot understand this price, which you will not be able to ignore; if you feel like it’s a pity; if you feel hesitant or even guilt, then it should be you who should come and tell us the answer to your question.”
Thales’ breathing became slower.
“In the future, you are to tell us”
Putray’s tone was grave, “Tell those people who died in Dragon Clouds City, tell those people who pledged their lives in the desert, tell all of Constellation or even the entire world
“Tell us, in that summer, that the sacrifices the countless people made by going through great troubles and expenditures, those who suffered numerous casualties, those who were willing to give up everything, those who were selfless enough to sacrifice their intelligence network, and those who did not hesitate to bring trouble to their own doorstep by forming a great enemy for Constellation’s sake in the future, that it’s worth it. Tell us, that the matter of rescuing Prince Thales Jadestar from the heavily surrounded Dragon Clouds City and Eckstedt, which were forged by copper and iron, was worth it”
Subconsciously, Thales held his breath and sat up straight. With his back against the cold, course mud wall, he stared firmly at Putray.
Putray was seen taking a deep breath while resolutely saying, “Tell us, and even convince us that this is the most worthwhile thing we have ever done in our lives.”
His tone was heavy, and the meaning behind his words was profound.
At this moment, Thales’ expression froze.
On the other side, Raphael lowered his eyes and pursed his lips. He did not speak again.
The familiar silence returned to the passage.
“If you go according to the plan and leave the boundaries of Dragon Clouds City safely, our man, who will be receiving you, will meet you at the border of the City of Faraway Prayers and Dragon Clouds City. He will protect you while you head southeast and cross over the Land of Barren Rocks in the City of Faraway Prayers, until he sends you into the Great Desert”
In a secret room at the end of the passage, Raphael spread a yellowing map across a three-legged wooden table, which was covered in dust. Under the faint light, he explained to Thales the route for his journey.
Putray leaned against the doorway in silence as he watched the prince listen earnestly to their upcoming plans.
Raphael dragged his finger downwards, and his fingertip drew a little closer to Constellation, which was at the bottom right corner of the map.
Thales’ gaze shifted accordingly.
“After you’ve entered the Great Desert, your greatest enemy will no longer be the pursuing soldiers but the weather and terrain. It is the fury of nature.” A strange, almost imperceptible look appeared in Raphael’s eyes. “Not forgetting, the threats up ahead.
“But there’s no need to worry.
“Firstly, a large portion of the northeastern end of the Great Desert has already been cleared by the expeditionary forces of Constellation who have ventured deep into the desert. No Barren Bone Tribe or orc hordes the size of twenty people and above would dare to stop in our cleared zones. At most, there’ll be a few scattered, ill-fated ones who did not manage to flee in time. Secondly, reinforcements departing from Constellation will also go north and take over the border of the Great Desert and City of Faraway Prayers. They know how to avoid the dangers brought upon by nature and man. They’ll take you down south into the desert”
Thales exhaled in resignation.
‘So, am I some sort of commodity?’
Raphael was still talking. He did not notice that Thales was acting a little unnaturally. “We guarantee that there will be trustworthy forces and manpower to protect you from the start in Dragon Clouds City to the end on the road in the Great Desert. Of course, there won’t be a lot of people, but they’re all rare elites of this world. They’ll ensure that mishaps like people we failed to get rid of will not become a threat to you
“In the Great Desert, our cavaliers will patrol around the clock, root out threats and maintain the consistency of the supply line across the several great oases.” Raphael tapped the map lightly, drawing a dotted line across a few green dots. “If you run into them, you just have to flash your identity to be escorted to the nearest military camp or supply point. You need not worry if you don’t bump into them either. Your escort knows the route. As long as you follow the plan,passing by each oasis and staying along our patrol range from beginning to end, you’ll be safe…
“Then you will be escorted back to Blade Fangs Dunethe farthest end of Constellation’s western frontline, which is one of our biggest military strongholds in the desert. That place is already our territory. Go east when you are there, and you will enter Western Desert Hill.”
Raphael raised his head. A faint light flashed across his red pupils. “His Majesty has negotiated with all the Western Desert suzerains led by Duke Fakenhaz, especially the Three Distinguished Families of the strongest power. From Blade Fangs Dune to the Ruins, and from Wing Fort to Brave Souls Fort, you will be able to gain all the help you need from the Three Distinguished Families as well as the vassals under themthe prince’s safe return is their primary task.”
Upon hearing this, Thales’ gaze froze for a moment.
‘Guardian Duke of the Western Desert, Suzerain of the Ruins, Cyril Fakenhaz.’
His memory went back to the Hall of Stars, to a period of time long, long ago. He remembered that middle-aged duke who limped into the hall with a cane. He had sparse hair, a haggard appearance, a ghost-like face as well as a shady, terrifying smile. His cold, shrill voice was accompanied by an unforgiving sarcasm.
He was that “unwelcomed one”.
“…Once you get through the Ruins, go east. The Royal Guards and part of the regular soldiers belonging to the Royal Family will greet you at the Avenue of Blessings and escort you safely back to Eternal Star City. Any more questions?” Raphael finished his speech.
“You mean the most mysterious Four-Eyed Skull Family among the Six Great Clans, Fakenhaz of the Ruins?” Thales pulled his train of thought back to the present. “Can they be trusted?” he said in a grave manner.
Raphael’s moving finger stopped on the map.
Thales drew the corners of his mouth up. “Maybe they’re not as welcoming of me as you imagined?
“I still remember the time I departed six years ago. Duke Zayen Covendier was also among the Six Great Dukes. He was very amicable indeed. He even specifically came to bid me farewell.”
The prince’s eyebrows twitched. In a slight mocking tone, he said, “Putray, do you still remember?”
Putray laughed involuntarily.
“His Majesty will ensure this.” However, the Barren Bone kinsman only paused for less than a minute before he spoke in an extremely firm tone.
“The suzerains of Western Desertwhether they’re under the Fakenhaz, Bozdorf or Kroma Family, they’re all trustworthy. Their soldiers are also among this batch of troops who entered the desert from the West. Merely relying on the regular soldiers of the Royal Family in Blade Fangs Camp is inadequate to clear the desert.”
“All trustworthy?” Thales shrugged without comment. “This isn’t something I hear often.”
Putray let out a gentle chuckle.
“Thales, I know that the extraordinary period of these six years have caused you to be rather cautious,” Putray interrupted this conversation.
“This isn’t unreasonableafter all, the heir’s return to his own country doesn’t just affect yourself. It leans more towards a political storm for all of Constellation. It affects all parties.”
Thales snorted lightly.
The thin lord began to speak slowly, “However, please believe me that for your safe and sound return to Constellation, the nobles who have been fighting continuously in Eternal Star City while keeping themselves hidden have not had an easier time than these seemingly boorish men of Dragon Clouds City. This includes Gilbert.”
When he heard this familiar name, Thales moved slightly.
Putray stared at him seriously. “They’ve already put in great effort and paid a great price to ensure that the Western Desert is completely on our side. What you have to do, what you need to worry about most at the moment”
Putray did not continue.
Thales looked at him from afar. He was silent for a few seconds.
The prince nodded and shut his eyes.
‘The desert and nobles. This journey’ He sighed from the bottom of his heart.
Raphael and Putray exchanged glances, not uttering anything.
“Very well. What’s left is how you’re going to leave the city. This is of vital importance,” Raphael said plainly. “His Grace will tell you in detail. It is his method after all.”
Raphael shot Putray a glance. “It… should be reliable?”
Putray fished out his pipe gently, let out a faint scoff and shook his head begrudgingly.
The Barren Bone man turned his head around.
“In that case, I think we ought to bid farewell now.”
Thales still had his eyes shut in thought. Upon hearing those words, he was taken by surprise as he quickly looked at Raphael.
“Now? You’re leaving?”
However, Raphael did not care about the prince’s astonishment. He maintained that relaxed, smiling expression of his, as though he did not care about anything in the slightest degree.
“Your Highness, though I keep saying that there isn’t going to be any issues…” Raphael tightened his collar and pulled the sleeves on his hands a little higher. “With regard to your temperament and encounters in the past several years however, it wouldn’t be surprising if you really ran into an accident in the desert”
Thales’ face darkened immediately.
‘Wait right there. What do you mean by “it wouldn’t be surprising if I ran into an accident”?’ he cursed in silence.
Raphael may have been smiling, but it caused Thales to be speechless.
“But since the age of the Empire, one saying has been circulating in the Great Desert.”
Thales was stunned for a few seconds.
“A saying circulating in the Great Desert?” Thales looked at the other party’s red pupils. His limited knowledge and puzzlement crept into his heart. “Is it a proverb or legend of the Barren Bone people? Your homeland”
For some reason, Putray coughed.
Raphael appeared to have just come to his senses then. His frozen expression moved again. “No, the Great Desert is nobody’s homelandany person is merely a guest as far as the desert is concerned.”
Soon after, Raphael changed the subject. His tone turned icy, his gaze sharp and fierce.
“If the Desert God does not suffer from disaster, then the world will be filled with disaster. If the Desert God does not forgive, then the world will be forgiven.”
‘What? Desert God?’ Thales blinked as he tried hard to understand.
“It doesn’t sound quite like the common language.” Thales searched for such unusual sentences in his mind. Suddenly, he felt a certain sense of familiarity, which was only present during his studies in Mindis Hall. “Uh, it’s actually very similar to an ancient verse in ‘Cahill Yarrow’s Poetry Collection’. What does it mean?”
Raphael smiled faintly and reached his hand into his pocket. There was a slightly distracted look in his eyes. “The Desert God, one of the most original beliefs in the Great Desert. It represents the callous existence of the whole desert in the legends. The inhabitants of the Great Desert feel love and hate towards it. They respect it, yet they fear it.”
Putray coughed again.
The dark red pupils of the Barren Bone man slowly focused, but he gently lowered his head the next moment. He brought his hand out of his pocket to cover his eyes. “If you run into any dangers in the desert, Your Highness, please bear in mind…
“The weak fear disaster, the lucky beg for pardon.
“Only the people who renounce weakness and luck are capable of keeping a foothold in the ruthless Great Desert.”
Once he finished speaking, Raphael raised his head gradually.
A shudder ran through Thales’ body.
The instant Raphael put down his head, the strange red pupils of the Barren Bone kinsman changed into the most ordinary dark brown color. They were plain and calm.
“Your Highness, we will meet again in Eternal Star City.”
Amid Thales’ slight amazement, Raphael, who now had a pair of brown pupils as his disguise, turned around and left without the slightest reluctance.Only a piece of his white robe was left, and it also gradually vanished into the darkness.
He did not make a single sound. It was as if he was just an illusion.
He disappeared just as he had appeared.
“Youngsters, they really like to act cool and pretend to be mysterious” Putray shook his head, fished out a flint and muttered to himself.
“You better not learn from him, Thales. Otherwise, it would serve you right to be single on Single’s Day”
Thales ignored Putray.
Frowning, he looked into the darkness, which engulfed Raphael.
“The surroundings are so dark, and that man didn’t carry a lamp. How exactly does he see the road?” the prince mocked in a low voice.
Thales initially thought that nobody heard him grumbling, not until Raphael’s calm and flat words traveled from the deep darkness into his ears, “As long as you eat more liver and fruits you’ll be able to find light, even in the darkness.”
Thales’ smile froze on his face.
‘Damn it. Not funny at all.’