Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
With complicated feelings Thales left the ominous ‘Ghost Prince’ tower.
The noise brought by the chaos in Blade Fangs Camp abruptly traveled into his ears again.
‘I guess the sudden blockade took many people by surprise, and the soldiers” Old Hammer exhaled. “The entire camp is more chaotic than usual. Of course, it has never been very stable to begin with.”
Thales followed Old Hammer and Quick Rope. He laboriously squeezed past three men with different accents arguing with each other and sent away a blacksmith who tried to sell a rusted fighting sword to him. He politely avoided a woman with heavy makeup who wanted to lift her thigh length petticoat in his direction, cleverly bypassed a group of thugs at a dark corner who were observing the people and would approach new people while acting drunk.
But when he saw a shy child-beggar reach out to him, he sighed and tried to dig out a few Northland copper coins to give to him. However, Old Hammer held him back.
“Don’t. You show your sympathy now, and there will be seven or eight people staring at you when you look back. Blade Fangs Camp is not as it used to be.” Old Hammer pushed Thales’ wallet back into his bag and watched the area around him warily. At the same time, he patted the weapon by his body.
“A few years ago, when Blood Bottle Gang reduced their influence here by a large scale, so much so that they could be said to have just let Blade Fangs Camp run loose on its own, the people underground no longer bothered about the rules as much. They don’t have any moral limits when they did things, and they will extort you until they strip you naked and sell you, and you won’t even know who is responsible for your misfortune.”
Quick Rope’s face was pale as if he remembered something. He muttered a few words under his breath.
Old Hammer’s words caused Thales to be momentarily stunned.
“Blood Bottle Gang?”
Old Hammer nodded.
“When I was still in the army, it was this group of thugs who proclaimed themselves to be Blood Bottle Gang who ruled the underground. They had great power. They colluded with the local nobles and became brothers with top-ranked military executives. One-third of the people living in Blade Fangs Camp were protected by the gang, whether they were smugglers, merchants who conduct their business in the black market, the watchmen of the streets or the prostitutes. Even those people who left the army and had nowhere to stay would go to Blood Bottle Gang for food and clothes.
“But two or three years ago, when we returned to Blade Fangs Camp, Blood Bottle Gang’s influence was not as good as before. They don’t extend their influence into quite a lot of things anymore.” Old Hammer snorted. “I heard that they were taught a lesson in the kingdom by a rival gang who was more savage than them. They suffered devastating losses, and even their prestige here was affected.”
Thales sank into deep thought.
All sorts of accents in the peninsula could be found in this place, and even unfamiliar languages from faraway countries would occasionally appear. All sorts of businesses and trades were conducted, currencies from many countries were used, and it allowed Thales to form a new impression towards this ‘desert frontline’.
The trio walked through the dusty streets, and after they passed by a fort, a strange building appeared.
From a distance, it resembled a large, inverted bowl. It occupied a vast area, and it was as big as the Sunset Temple in Eternal Star City. It was as though a giant in the desert had casually thrown an huge building block on the sand.
This semi-circular building did not seem to have much connection to the world around it. There was a small hole on the mottled and rough curved walls that could only be seen if Thales narrowed his eyes. Sun seeped through it, and sand entered through the hole as well.
In Thales’ view, the wide outer wall only had one narrow archway, and it was guarded by a team of armed soldiers. The archway was dark and the insides could not be seen clearly, and since Thales could not see what was inside clearly, there was a gloomy and ominous feeling to that place.
Thales grew puzzled.
‘This fort should at least be a military building, right?
‘Or is it simply a commander’s residence? Then maybe, I can see’
“Oh, do we HAVE to go this way?” Quick Rope’s disheartened voice resounded through the air. He covered his head and refused to look at the building.
“Don’t complain,” Old Hammer replied without even turning to look at him, “This is the fastest way.”
“What do you mean?”
Still puzzled, Thales pointed at the bowl-shaped fort resembling a colosseum. “That’s”
Quick Rope let out a strange sigh.
“Prison of Bones.
“The last place you want to go in the world.”
Thales cast a glance at the soldiers standing on guard, “Prison of Bones?”
Old Hammer nodded. “The place where Western Desert and even the kingdom banishes their criminals.”
Thales looked as if he just understood something.
He knew this place.
When Constellation was just established, this land was a true nightmare. To its north was Eckstedt, at its center was the Great Desert, and to the south were small countries built in an unfamiliar wilderness. As a newly conquered Constellatiate territory, most of its land was devoid of people. Its borders were filled with dangers, and it is attacked by sandstorms all year long. The terrain was not suitable for living, and no one stayed here besides those who were conferred titles of nobility due to their achievements. Many historians believed that the Fakenhaz Family was given this land in the Western Desert as another form of punishment. It is a reflection of how bad their relationship is with Tormond I. The other group staying here would be those who have been exiled here because of their crimes, and they are all reluctant residents. This process repeated itself, and then it formed the current Western Desert Hill.
In the meantime, the cruelty of the Prison of Bones added color to the rumors pertaining to how difficult life in Western Desert Hill was as well as all the dangerous rumors surrounding the place.
No one knew when it started, but to the criminals who had committed heinous crimes or sparked controversial debates, they would usually be exiled to the Western Desert, to Blade Fangs Camp, and imprisoned in the notorious Prison Of Bones when conventional sentences were no longer suitable for them. This was their new way of attoning for their crimes. It not only saved the judges and local prisons the trouble of taking care of these people, but also provided free hard labour to the Western Desert and even Blade Fangs Camp. They could also alleviate the heavy pressure the soldiers in the Western Frontlines suffered.
“Did you see the parts on the ground? Those little windows? That’s the ‘White Prison’ in Prison Of Bones.” Old Hammer glanced at the ominous building while avoiding the guards’ scrutinizing gazes. “Imprisoned there are people who have been convicted locally, and have lighter sentences. They are at least allowed to see the sun, and they only need to atone for their crimes with hard labor.”
Quick Rope did not interrupt Old Hammer, something that was rarely seen of him. He just looked at the oppressive Prison of Bones with disgust.
“But White Prison is only a small part of the Prison of Bones. The other part is the ‘Black Prison’ built under the ground. There are countless deep caves that will never see light. It was specially prepared for the felons who are exiled from all over the kingdom. The heavier the crime they committed, the deeper they are sent into the prison. The lower the Black Prison, the fewer prisoners could be seen, and they are also more dangerous than the last.
“Once you are sent into Black Prison, there is no other way to leave, except to become a part of the suicide squad, where your death is guaranteed, fight on the battlefield as a vanguard or act as a bait.”
Thales stared fixedly at the base outside the Prison of Bones as he imagined the situation beneath it.
Old Hammer sighed slightly. “Of course, it’s not as if suicide squads can be formed as you pleased, and the demand for the spots are very high as well. After the end of the Desert War, there are not many places where suicide squads are needed. If they lost this opportunity, the prisoners in the Black Prison can only wait for their death,leaving behind skeletons to be trampled on by the unfortunate ones who will enter their cells in the future.
“That is how the Prison of Bones got its name.”
“Let’s go.” Quick Rope frowned unnaturally. He seemed rather uneasy. “This place makes me nervous.”
Old Hammer patted him on the shoulders. “When Quick Rope first arrived, he was once trapped in White Prison, and I guess he had a very deep impression of it.”
Thales looked at Quick Rope in surprise.
But Quick Rope just grinned and did not say another word.
Thales wisely chose not to ask him anything about it. He moved his gaze away from the mysterious Prison of Bones.
They left the territory belonging to the Prison of Bones and passed by the corner of a cube-shaped fort.
“So, where are we going?”
Old Hammer shrugged. “My Home.”
Thales could not help but feel stunned.
“Your house? I thought you said your house is in the Ruins?”
Old Hammer chuckled and shook his head.
“Oh, I am not talking about my family, but you will know when you arrive.”
Quick Rope winked at him slyly, making the perplexed Thales even more confused.
But his bewilderment did not last long.
After they crossed another dusty street, they squeezed through a crowd and came to a three-story oval-shaped fort. The width of the front door was wide enough for a carriage to enter.
“It’s here.” Quick Rope patted Thales’ shoulder. “My Home.”
Thales looked up curiously and found a large wooden signboard hanging in front of the fort. The sign was engraved with a vivid picture of a wine goblet with wine spilling out from it. The sign swayed slightly in the desert wind.
The prince’s eyebrows twitched involuntarily at the moment he saw the sign board.
There were two big words carved at the centre of the wine goblet.
A small line of tiny words were carved under the signboard,
[Humans will perish, orcs will fall, the queen will die, but we will never close our door. Opened since Year 462 of the Calendar of Eradication: Queen Erica’s Last Wine Goblet.]
Thales was at a loss as to whether he should laugh or cry, but he followed Old Hammer and walked through the door of this ‘My Home’ tavern.
He was greeted by the sight of a dozen wooden round tables arranged in a disorderly fashion. The tavern was filled with the unique air full of sand and dust from the desert. All kinds of customers and tavern girls moved back and forth. They toasted to each other, laughed merrily, sang drinking songs, gambled with dice, and even quarrelled and screamed angrily. All these sounds traveled into his ears at the same time, and the atmosphere was incredibly lively.
Old Hammer ignored Thales’ surprised gaze. He went up to a table where two men were already drunk with a familiar stride, and yanked them off the table. He shoved a copper coin into a tavern girl’s chest. Then, under her indignant gaze, he pulled his hand firmly back before he walked straight to the bar counter.
“I have always wanted to do this,” Quick Rope said quietly to Thales while glanced at the hot tavern girl, “But Louisa and the others said that I don’t enough strength, and I won’t be able to pull my hand back.”
‘What they said might make sense.’
Thaelsmuttered in his heart as he watched Quick Rope watching the tavern girl.
“Simon.” Old Hammer sat down at the bar counter and said to a grey-haired middle-aged man next to him who was enjoying a cup of beer all by himself, “We’re back.”
The middle-aged man turned his head to Old Hammer to reveal a worn face.
“Someone said that a merchant group entered the camp despite the blockade order issued.” Simon narrowed his eyes slightly as he cast a glance at Quick Rope and Thales, who also sat down.
“I was really worried about you lot.”
Old Hammer shrugged. “Clearly, your worries came true.”
Simon whispered, “I mean… how many members were left?”
Thales noted that the man was quite old.
This topic made Old Hammer and Quick Rope jolt together.
“How did you”
“I’ve been doing this for twenty years, Hammer. And I’ve been a soldier for ten years before that.” Simon exhaled. He spun the wine goblet in his hand. “I know what expression people will have when they lose their comrades.”
It was as if there was magic contained in his words, because when he said these words, it was as if he managed to isolate all the other noises in the tavern other than the sounds in this particular spot where they were.
Both Old Hammer and Quick Rope remained silent for a long time.
Due to their influence, Thales remembered his experiences in the desert. He recalled the short period of time he spent with Dante’s Greatsword, and he remembered the fates of their fallen comrades. He felt miserable.
The grey-haired Simon did not continue. He sighed heavily and turned to the bar. “Tampa, give this person a strong one!”
A fierce-looking man with a scar left behind by a sharp blade on his neck came out from behind the bar. He casually grabbed three bottles of beer and ‘mixed’ a drink with a speed that Thales could not see clearly. He pushed it over to them. During that period of time, he automatically ignored Quick Rope’s eager gaze and even cast Thales a cold glance.
Simon pushed the wine goblet to Old Hammer, “How many?”
Old Hammer took a sip of his beer, then shook his head with a hiss. The wine goblet was slammed into the table, and he exhaled resentfully.
Quick Rope answered with a sullen voice, “Six.”
Simon sneered coldly. “Who else survived?”
Old Hammer’s expression darkened.
“Louisa, Mickey, and Dean.”
Simon did not talk. His gaze was glued to his wine goblet.
“Oh, yes. This is Wya” Quick Rope coughed, as if he was trying to liven up the mood.
“This is someone we rescued on the road. To be honest, he helped us a lot, he Wya, this is Simon. One of the members we left behind to take care of things here.”
Thales, who was sizing up this peculiar tavern, took a deep breath and tried to squeeze out a smile.
But Simon obviously did not want to greet him.
“You lose one, you add another; one dies, and another comes. It’s always like this” The mercenaries’ rear personnel looked into his wine goblet and found that he had almost finished his wine. He muttered, “This is the fate of mercenaries, isn’t it?”
Old Hammer shook his head, feeling low-spirited. “No, Simon. Wya, he is not”
But Simon did not let him talk.
“Come on, kid. It’s time to start a team meeting.” The rear personnel waved his hand and pushed away his fleeting sadness before he wrapped an arm around Old Hammer’s shoulder. “Tell me all the details while we wait for Dean to come back…I think Dante’s Greatsword will have a huge turning point in the near future.”
They left the bar counter.
A thought struck Quick Rope. “Me too”
“You stay here, Quick Rope.” Old Hammer turned around and pointed. “Take good care of Wya. It’s his first time here.”
“But” Quick Rope extended his arm with a look of someone who had been wronged. The embarrassed Thales gave him a slight smile in return.
Quick Rope hunched his shoulders as he watched Old Hammer and Simon walked toward the stone ladder. He pulled back his arm, which was halfway through being straightened fully, then sat down in disappointment and whispered, “Okay”
Thales could not think of anything to comfort the new recruit who was not accepted by the core of the team. He could only move to sit stiffly on his seat while he thought about his next step.
A hoarse voice came from the noisy tavern. Thales and Quick Rope looked up and saw the fierce-looking owner of the tavern wiping his wine goblets. He had appeared before him at some unknown point of time.
He had a dark complexion, a clear sign that he was a local who obtained his skin tone due to the scorching sun and strong sandstorms in this place.
“You know, after the blockade order was imposed, the number of soldiers who surged into this place was beyond our imagination… At that time, I was thinking that perhaps some people were about to learn a lesson”
Quick Rope curled his mouth. “Don’t, Tampa.”
Thales frowned slightly. He had a vague impression of that name.
The owner of the tavern named Tampa snorted, but he did not shut up. “You have ten experienced and fully armed career assassins, and a newbie who seems to have been brought along just so that they can make their numbers greater to intimidate others”
Tampa wiped his wine goblet faster and faster as he ignored Quick Rope’s protests. “People who can survive in the desert are very smart. As long as Tormorden is willing to pay some road toll, the desert bandits and exiles will not fight against you head-on, because they will be forced to pay a high price for it”
Quick Rope exhaled in agony and slammed his fist on the bar counter.
“We met the gray mixed breeds, Tampa.”
“A LOT of gray mixed breeds.”
Tampa’s hands stopped wiping the wine goblet.
A few seconds later, just when Thales thought he was going to say something, Tampa suddenly bent down. When he straightened his back again, a wine goblet was placed before Quick Rope.
“Drink up. It’s high-quality Northland rye wine. Got it from the north.” Tampa held a bottle of wine and filled up the wine goblet for Quick Rope with an indifferent expression.
“Trust me, this is the only way.
Quick Rope was surprised to see the wine in front of him.
But after only one second, the slightly depressed Quick Rope grabbed the wine goblet and finished it in one go.
Just as Thales tried to find a way to slip away, the owner of the tavern suddenly turned to him.
“So, Quick Rope… Who is this new and charming lass? Your girlfriend?”
Quick Rope put down his wine goblet and coughed violently.