Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
Thales had never heard of Crassus’ name before, and he could not understand why Stake’s expression had changed so suddenly…
…but he knew who Stake was.
During the night six years ago when Dragon’s Blood was launched, it was this man who stood in front of the Archduke of Black Sand Region while radiating with happiness to negotiate back and forth with the infamous Chapman Lampard for the rights over the Prince of Constellation.
He and the forbidden organization he belonged to played an indispensable role in the unprecedented coup that brought upheaval, whether it was the time Thales was nearly assassinated outside the fortress, Archduke Poffret’s despairing confession before his death, or even during the terrifying moment when the Born King was beheaded.
When he thought about it, he realized that this group was involved in all of them, and it stunned him.
They were terrifying and omnipresent, but also mysterious and elusive. Every time they appeared, they would do so suddenly and in a shocking manner. They brought blood and death with them, which horrified those who watched their deeds, and filled their victims with regret, even if it was too late.
Now this group of people had appeared again, and at this time
Thales took a deep breath and suppressed his anxiety and uneasiness. He stared with utmost attention at the man, not even caring about the look Quick Rope threw at him.
Stake carefully observed the mercenaries around him in the tavern. The man learned that although the murderous and violent aura on them had grown stronger, none of them showed any intention of refuting Ricky’s words, neither did they show any signs of surprise. It caused a solemn look to appear on the man’s face.
Stake’s heart sank. ‘He’s not lying; Ricky is indeed “Crassus”. Things seemed to have progressed a little out of my expectations. But’
“So, you are the Crassus of this generation. I have to say, I am a little surprised.” Stake turned to Ricky. He spoke with caution and seemed strangely careful, like a thief outside a window casting glances at the valuables in a house.
“People with high status rarely let themselves be in danger.”
‘High status?’ Thales turned his attention to Ricky, but he could only see a rough, weather-worn face, the light leather armor commonly seen on desert mercenaries, and a crude and laid-back posture.
No matter how Thales looked at him, he was just an ordinary mercenary leader.
The prince could not help but wonder, ‘How is he a person with high status?’
“Or…” Stake’s gaze was fixed on Ricky. The topic of conversation suddenly turned as he asked probingly, “Is the matter tonight so important that even someone of such high status as you would have to personally be involved in the act?”
The mercenaries around them were quiet, but many people had subconsciously looked at each other.
The silence lasted for a few seconds. Ricky forced a smile, but it quickly disappeared.
“Of course, an excellent leader doesn’t have to take the risk of putting himself in such vulnerable position.” He nodded and said faintly, “But he can never lack the courage and willingness to assume the responsibility in doing so.”
Stake quirked an eyebrow, then put on an enlightened look. “My utmost respect and admiration to you.” The man smiled bashfully and said, “Alas, this makes me worry. You obviously have a very important mission, but lack the necessary”
However, Ricky didn’t let him continue. His gaze may be fixed on Stake, but he continued to speak, not even caring that the other person had just spoken. “Otherwise, as a leader, he will one day become trash that can only remain behind the scenes, protecting himself in a bubble-wrapped lie just to hide his own weakness and incompetence. He may only rely on false pretences and despicable trickery to win the trust of his peers, and use empty threats and false incentives to retain the obedience of his subordinates.”
Ricky’s tone was very light, but the topic of his conversation suddenly changed at the end.
“Tell me, how is Teng?”
The underlying implications in his words made Stake unable to help a frown.
Thales was stunned as well as he listened to them. ‘How is what now?’
He did not understand that one syllable which constituted a word. But Stake’s reaction made him understand quickly that it was a name.
The moment he had heard the name, Stake’s expression had stiffened for a moment while he stood bearing Ricky’s burning gaze.
He quickly adjusted himself and replied with a smile, “The Shadow Master is well.” Stake bowed again. He looked at the mercenaries around him through the corner of his eyes. There was a humble expression on his face. “As good as you are.”
‘The Shadow Master.’
Thales furrowed his brow. He was not the only one who seemed to have come to understand the situation.
“Damn, Thales, I think…” Quick Rope went pale, and he nudged him on the table, whispering in disbelief, “I think I know who these people are…”
Thales nodded without changing his expression.
“As good as I am? I don’t think so.” Ricky shook his head with a chuckle. He raised a finger and pointed in Stake’s directionright across from him.
“If he is doing as well as I am, then Teng would not have sent you, a spy who had always stayed in Dragon Clouds City, to come into Constellation’s Blade Fangs Camp in the Great Desert; to enter the territory of a seemingly dangerous place for all of you. I don’t think that Kessel the Fifth has forgiven you lot.”
When he spoke to Stake, Ricky became aggressive and fierce, which was the exact opposite to how easygoing he had been. Tampa could not help but break into cold sweat.
Stake’s eyebrows drew closer together.
‘No. That’s not how things should be.’
In this risky and special meeting, he should be the one who initiated the topic of conversation, the one to make the suggestions, and the one to highlight the conditions.
At that moment, Stake discovered, much to his dismay, that the other party had a firm hold on the initiative of the conversation.
“If he’s as good as I am…” Ricky’s face became cold, and his tone delivered Stake a lot of pressure, making him feel as if his words were like a rope around his neck, gradually tightening around him. “…then he would not have sent someone like you, acting like a stupid and arrogant blackmailer, coming here with that smug look even though you knew that we regard this moment with great importance, deliberately provoking us, saying a whole lot of nonsense, hiding the information you know, trying to be mysterious, and trying to pretend like you know what we are about to do…
“…as if you have you something to hold against us,” Ricky spat out hatefully.
Stake’s pupils narrowed slowly. “So, what you mean is”
“Do you remember, Stake?” The middle-aged swordsman next to Ricky, Klein, stared at Stake as if his face was filthy, and his voice was hoarse. “We have some unfinished business between us.”
Stake showed a confused look.
“In Dragon Clouds City six years ago, you used our name to wreak havoc in the most dangerous place in Eckstedt, and you did whatever you wanted there.” The middle-aged swordsman of Northland watched him like a leopard watching its prey.
“Thanks to what you’ve done, we lost a lot of people, including my students. Then the calamities, Great Dragon, the rebellion, chaos, and the sweep in Dragon Clouds City happened.
“Those days were really difficult to get by. Do you think we’ll let what you did to us slide so easily?”
Stake’s eyes sharpened. The mercenaries became even more agitated. They cast dissatisfied and hateful gazes at Stake.
‘Dragon Clouds City six years ago’
Thales noticed that Quick Rope was breathing more rapidly next to him. He had even tightened his fists.
For some reason, Marina, who stood behind them, also gritted her teeth. She glared at Stake who was being condemned by everyone.
Stake let out a breath. “I express my deepest regrets on this matter. Please accept my apologies.”
Klein repeated in a sarcastic and disdainful manner, “Apologies?”
Contemptuous snorts came from among the mercenaries. However, Stake was completely unaffected, like an indifferent and hypocritical nobleman who heard of a tragedy in the distant lands, then pretended to show a bit of sadness to prove his humanity, and to be understood by other people.
“We were also very surprised by the issues during that year… but I am here today, absolutely sincere in wanting to present to you a win-win situation”
But Ricky raised his head gently. “There won’t be talk about a ‘win-win situation’ between us.”
He rebuffed Stake’s words and let the latter feel suddenly astonished for a moment.
“Right when you entered the door, we already hated your arrogant face, hated the timing you chose to appear here, hated your self-righteous tone, and hated the bloody debts you left in the past.” Ricky said coldly, “And we are not interested in your mysterious ‘suggestion’ or ‘secret’.”
Stake’s expression suddenly stiffened.
“You are mere bastards who live in the darkness among corpses, flies who chase after chaos and the stink of dead bodies,” Ricky said without any enthusiasm as he watched the Stake who had frozen. “Now, do you understand our attitude?”
Stake clenched his fists, and his face was filled with disbelief.
On the same table, Masked Man sighed and knocked on the table. “Why are we still wasting time here? Our schedule is really packed today.”
Klein snorted. With his snort, almost all the mercenaries in the tavern held their weapons with cold expressions, and many even took a step forward.
In the face of these aggressive mercenaries, Stake was rooted to the spot. He instinctively looked around him.
Klein coldly said, “Don’t look elsewhere, Stake, I can promise you this: once something happens, your companions outside can’t do anything before your head lands on the ground.”
As a bystander, Thales silently pulled back his head. Quick Rope was still staring at Stake.
The tavern went completely silent, but no one felt that the atmosphere in that moment was comforting. Stake looked at the situation around him and frowned.
‘Damn it… This group of brainless musclemen.’
However, he could not be hostile towards them. He could not. He still needed them.
‘This damn group…’
“If you kill me now, then the Constellatiates will immediately know about your plot here.” Stake lowered his head with a serious look. “You will not succeed in your plans.”
Ricky sighed. “It seems that he didn’t understand.”
The next second, the flash of a sword appeared suddenly! With a speed that surpassed what Thales could see with his naked eye, a sword instantly appeared in Klein’s hand.
Thales, who had been completely focused on the conversation, was caught off guard. His eyebrows rose. Fortunately, the blade did not charge towards him.
The sword stopped in front of Stake’s neck. After a second, Stake, who only just reacted to the situation, could not help but take a step back. His face went pale!
It was only after this moment did the breeze from the sword blow past his cheek.
Klein was seen holding a strange longsword with a groove-like fuller in the middlea blood gutterand the blade quietly stopped in front of Stake.
The mercenaries seemed to be used to the sight and were indifferent to this. They started to laugh altogether.
Stake’s breathing was erratic, but he tried to speak calmly. “Do you really want to do this?”
Klein held the strange longsword and shook his head gently. “This is ‘Twilight’. When it tears your blood vessels open…” As he spoke, his longsword moved up and reached Stake’s neck.
Stake’s pupils immediately shrank. ‘Damn it!’
“Alright, I got it!” He raised both his hands in an instant to show his submission as he panted, which made Klein stop moving his sword. “Venerated Crassus, and everyone else… would you like to listen to my suggestion? It is your choice and… I am willing… I am willing to answer all your doubts.”
His posture was humble and he had a respectful tone. The three leaders of the mercenary group looked at each other.
“Very well.” Ricky lifted the corners of his mouth. “Compared to the nonsense at the beginning… you’re finally starting to speak the common tongue.”
Stake breathed a sigh of relief. He re-examined ‘Crassus’ before him in indignation and uneasiness. Klein snorted coldly and withdrew his longsword so quickly that his movements could not be discerned.
Ricky said faintly, “Tell us, how did you find us?”
After a few seconds, Stake seemed to have accepted his fate and said with a sigh,
“The Tower of Eradication.”
At this moment, Thales saw many of the mercenaries all but clench their fists or held their weapons, unable to control themselves. Their breathings grew rapid. Klein and Masked Man frowned at each other.
Only their leader, Ricky, did not change his expression.
“Yes, I know.” Stake touched his neck and said through gritted his teeth, “We have eyes and ears there.”
Ricky continued to ask, “What have you heard?”
“Not long ago, the Tower of Eradication was ambushed, and it happened during nighttime.”
Stake carefully swept his gaze over the mercenaries around him and observed their expressions.
“The opponents’ origins were unknown. They were powerful, and their numbers were great. The defense line and guards were broken through layer by layer. The invaders attacked up to the House of Scions,” said Stake in a tone as though he was telling a story, “Then, they were driven back.
“According to our people, some ‘supernatural’ force even appeared while those invaders attacked them.”
Thales raised his eyebrows. ‘Hang on a second. Not long ago… the Tower of Eradication was ambushed… some supernatural force’
The Prince of Constellation blinked and recalled a certain lesson he had had with a certain someone a long time ago.
‘At the time, that guy who was about to leave to a faraway place said to me that No way? Is this what I think it is?’
“This was one of the rarest and most vicious attacks the Tower of Eradication has ever suffered since it was built. Even if the Gray Sword Guards kept this a secret strictly among themselves, it was still difficult to cover up the entire thing. Every one of the eight schools suffered heavy casualties, and it’s much worse than when the Red King of Constellation attacked the border two hundred years ago en masse and surrounded Sharp Blade Valley.”
Stake sneered and looked at the dozens of mercenaries. “You lot did it, right? At the very least, you were involved, right? You cooperated with Blood Bottle Gang, they recruited a lot of Psionic Warriors from the Western Desert…”
There was a commotion from the mercenaries around them.
‘Blood Bottle Gang?’
In his mind, Thales put his hand on his forehead. He felt that his guess was getting closer and closer to the truth.
Klein shook his head. “It has nothing to do with you.”
“You fled into the desert later, returned to Blade Fangs Camp, and hid within Blood Whistle. One of our spies in the desert recognized you.” Stake continued, “But Blade Fangs Camp was deploying troops into the desert. After issuing the blockade order, your mercenary group did not disband even though there was no business. Instead, you continued to recruit people from all over the place. I think, no matter what you have encountered in the Tower of Eradication, you are not about to give up because of it.
“So I sent someone to leave a message for you: Tonight, I will visit you.”
Masked Man snorted disdainfully.
Ricky and Klein did not say anything.
“Listen, I don’t care about your resentment towards the Tower of Eradication. Either way, both of you have been fighting each other for more than a hundred years.” When Stake saw this, a thought struck him and he continued to say, “I don’t care why you raided the place, be it to vent your rage, to overthrow them, or to dig up treasure…”
‘Fighting against the Tower of Eradication for more than a hundred years?’ Thales thought of something.
“But I know that you aren’t living well now. The price the intruders paid to deal such a huge blow to the famous Tower of Eradication must have been too great. The tower had not fallen despite being between two powerful countries, and had powerful defenses thanks to the land upon which it was built.”
Stake’s eyes flashed. He raised his hand. He sounded elated,as if he had forgotten the awkwardness and humiliation he just suffered. “Now, no matter what you are going to do, you most definitely lack manpower, especially if you want to break into the infamous Prison of Bones in Constellation’s Blade Fangs Camp. It is an unprecedented prison raid…”
‘What?’ Thales could not react for a moment, but the others were different.
At this moment, be it Ricky, Klein, or Masked Man, all of them suddenly looked up. They glared at Stake who stood before them, as if they could not believe their ears.
The mercenaries were even more agitated, and a small uproar broke out among them.
“What?” Quick Rope whispered to Thales in disbelief, “These people want to… raid the Prison of Bones, that haunted place? There must be something wrong with their brains!”
Stake continued speaking in the middle of the tavern, “This will not be an easy task”
However, the next moment, a familiar sword glinted. Klein’s sword was pressed against Stake’s throat once more.
“Who told you?!” asked the middle-aged Northlander swordsman coldly.
“This damn cockroach,” said Masked Man.
Ricky frowned. “How did you know this?”
Again, Stake had sunk into an unfortunate situation. He gasped rapidly, but this time, he rebutted in neither a haughty nor humble manner.
“A few days ago, you deliberately sent some people into the Prison of Bones as planted agents for when the time came for you to act.” Stake snorted coldly and said, “Tonight, you were set to gather here. You even chased everyone away and kidnapped the employers, including this tavern owner. It’s quite obvious, what you’re trying to do!”
On the other side, Tampa, who had been silent for a long time, was stunned, and slammed his hand on the table.
“F*ck! Is this the reason why you kidnapped me?” The tavern boss suppressed his anger as he was filled with surprise and bewilderment. “You’ve known long ago that ‘My Home’ is the place that provided supplies to the Prison of Bones. You were thinking of waiting until dawn breaks, and then use my supply transportation fleet”
The mercenary, Shawn, slammed the back of Tampa’s head, not letting his words escape his mouth.
‘Why?’ Thales was filled with great puzzlement. ‘Why do they want to do a prison raid? What are they planning to steal?
‘Most importantly, if this group of mysterious mercenaries really want to do this… how are they going to deal with Tampa and the two of us?’
The disorder in the tavern lasted a few seconds before it became quiet from Ricky raising his arm high again.
“We have underestimated you, Stake.” Ricky seemed thoughtful and his eyes shone. “You do indeed have your own worth for being able to become Teng’s arm and right-hand man.”
Under his instructions, Klein withdrew his sword.
‘Teng.’ When Stake heard this name again, his eyebrows twitched in a barely noticeable manner.
“Look, I’m right, aren’t I?” Stake exhaled and watched Ricky’s reaction carefully. “Your plan is too hasty, and your manpower is stretched to the limit… but what if we can help you?”
Ricky did not speak, neither did the other mercenaries.
“I know why you have specially chosen this time and not a different one, venerated Crassus.”
Stake moved forward slowly, his face regaining the confidence and calmness of when he first arrived.
“Right now, the most elite, agile, and loyal armies in the army: Stardust Unit, Skull Guards, Raven Whistle Light Cavalier, Black Lion Infantry Regiment, including a small number of professional mercenaries who have some connections have all, for some reason, followed Williams to the frontlines of the desert and cannot return to help at short notice.
“And what remains are second-class garrison soldiers, light infantry units, the temporary recruits from all over the country with varied skills, and backup troops and laborers who do not really have any experience in the battlefield. The baron is not present,there are not enough commanding officers whose status is high enough to manage the situation, and those who belong to either the royal family or the local nobles have great conflict between them. They clash opinions repeatedly. It may seem as if the soldiers are greater in numbers than usual, but in actuality, management is chaotic, command is disorderly, and the scheduling is inefficient.
“This would be a rare opportunity for you to raid the prison. Is there any better time than this? At any other time, the prison raid would be comparable to if you were facing the orderly battle formation of the Legendary Wing.”
Stake looked around and waved at the mercenaries around him, ignoring their displeased glares.
“That’s why you could easily recruit so many people together, and occupy this tavern. I listened to the locals. Usually, Williams would throw a group of suspicious warriors who gathered for no reason straight into the prison and strip them naked. He would only release them for twenty gold coins each.”
Stake’s animated explanation came to an end. He turned his head around confidently and stared at Ricky who was deep in thought.
“You aren’t wrong in taking this opportunity to raid the prison while the camp is in disorder”Stake raised a finger”but it is still too difficult.
“It will not be easy for you, even if you are professional mercenaries who are very experienced in war, and even if you are facing the weak, the old, and the crippled, you still have less than a hundred men. With one slip, you will suffer great casualties, and there would be no assurance of your safety. I really do not want you to suffer losses as devastating as your raid against the Tower of Eradication again.”
Once he said this, the mercenaries’ expressions began to change. In the next second, Stake changed the topic of conversation and a tempting look appeared in his eyes.
“But with us, things will be different.”
Ricky was still pondering his words. Klein watched him coldly without saying a word. Masked Man’s reaction was more dramatic, his gaze on Stake was filled with unprecedented feelings of hatred and disgust.
Stake tried to make his words sound more enticing. “You understand our capabilities. With us, you do not need this crappy plan, and you do not need this loquacious boss.”
Tampa glared at him disgustedly.
Stake’s eyes were bright. “We can provide you with the most accurate information and reports, help you fight for the best time and opportunity to act, and even lure away or cripple the defenses in the Prison of Bones for a short period of time so that you may prepare a safe means of escape. You don’t have to fearfully pretend to be the supply team to infiltrate into your designated place, or pay the high price of bearing your weapons to forcefully ambush and break through those damned prison gates.” He clenched his fists slowly. “You will get what you want faster, better, and easier no matter what it is.”
Stake stopped speaking for a moment, as if he was observing their reactions. Then he started speaking again.
“Venerated Crassus, and all of you powerful warriors. Your swordsmen are the greatest support we can find at this moment in this unfamiliar and hostile land.”
Right then, he was extremely humble. He clasped his hands together and put on a look of respectful obeisance.
“We are your best eyes and ears, and may offer help in a place full of strong enemies from the military.” Stake scrutinized every pair of eyes he could see when he swept his gaze over the people. “But no matter which side we are on, we are all isolated here. You are a mercenary group that is ostracized. We are all wanted criminals who were beaten by everyone. No one can face Williams, Blade Fangs Camp, the Western Desert, and the great and powerful entity behind them known as Constellation, alone.”
Stake widened his eyes and spread his arms. “So, I suggest that we cooperate with each other and take what we both need, we will help you open the door to the Prison of Bones easily. Disaster Sword and Shadow Shield, is there a better combination than this?”
The tavern went completely silent. The only sounds remaining were the warriors’ breaths. The noise rose and fell at irregular intervals. Stake observed their expressions inconspicuously, his eyes moving back and forth.
The silence seemed to have lasted for at least a year. In the end, Ricky took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “Shadow Shield what do you want?”
As soon as this was said, Klein and Masked Man turned their heads to stare at Ricky, but he ignored them.
“What are you going to do in the camp by borrowing our strength?”
Now Stake showed a smile. He rubbed his hands together and slowly raised his head.
“We have extremely reliable intelligence.” Stake’s tone was cautious, constantly observing even the subtlest expression on the face of the person before him.
“A target worth a king’s ransom, and whose existence affects multiple parties, has just crossed the desert today and reached Blade Fangs Camp.”
‘A target worth a king’s ransom? What??’
At this moment, if Marina bowed her head, she would notice the red-haired young man and the dark-haired boy sitting in front of her had their bodies stiffen simultaneously.
“That is our mission.”
Ricky narrowed his eyes.
“The target might be able to get help beyond one’s imagination at any time he wants: A large number of soldiers and countless elites, continuous support and tight defenses. We cannot steal him by sneaking around or attacking head-on.”
Stake grinned, smiled coldly, and nodded.
Under the supervision of the countless mercenaries around them, Thales and Quick Rope sat unmoving. Their gazes were frozen.
In his hell’s senses, Thales heard Tampa’s indignant huffs, Marina’s clear, cold hums, the endless whispers from the mercenaries… along with his and Quick Rope’s heartbeats, which were growing faster and louder.
“And we, Venerated Crassus, and everyone else…” Stake was seen lowering his head as if he was guarding a secret. “What we have to do is to work together to capture this difficult yet rewarding target in the camp…”
Thales and Quick Rope both fixed their stares on Stake. There was dread and fear in them, but they did not dare show even the slightest hint of emotion.
Under the many pairs of puzzled and hesitant eyes, Stake was like a questioner who, at the final moment of a quiz, revealed the solution to a riddle. With a malicious smile, he whispered, “The Second Prince of Constellation, the sole heir of the supreme king…
In that second, the expression of the Prince of Constellation froze and his breaths also stopped.
Next to him, Quick Rope showed a relieved smile, and let out a sigh of relief as if a burden had been taken off his shoulders.