Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
In the tavern, Ricky spoke slowly while the sounds of the other people breathing could be heard around him. “What secret?”
Thales stared at Stake, unable to look away. His curiosity and bewilderment about that night during that year had won out over the anxiety and fear in his mind.
Stake did not answer immediately. Shadow Shield looked around and smiled with satisfaction at seeing how everyone was interested in the topic.
“That is why I am here today.” He looked up slowly, and his eyes were suddenly sharp. “After crossing the sea, Teng expressed an unusual interest in the Jadestar Royal Family. I guess this has to do with who he was in the past.”
“But uprooting the Jadestar Royal Family in the Bloody Year? That business drove him into a corner. It’s too much.” Next to Ricky, Masked Man snorted.
Bloody Year. When he heard that key phrase, Thales’ eyelids twitched unexpectedly.
“There must be a reason, a reason that led him to be so fascinated with Jadestar.”
Stake straightened his back and threw calm glances at everyone who had varying expressions on their faces.
“Six years ago, as the person in charge of the others in Northland, I gave this command: When there is a chance, assassinate the Second Prince of Constellationwho was visiting the country.”
Quick Rope prodded Thales lightly in secret. Thales lowered his eyelids and pretended that he did not see the other person’s reproachful look which asked ‘Why is it you again?’.
Stake was still speaking and his words had everyone’s attention. “But Teng canceled this command in the end. He even did the opposite of what he usually does and personally showed up despite the risks, just to prevent our people from doing things impulsively.
“He wanted that prince alive, and even sent me to negotiate with the Archduke of Black Sand Region.”
Ricky frowned, his fingers tapped the table lightly.
Stake revealed a mysterious expression. “From madly assassinating the royal family members, to giving his all to ensure the prince’s survival, the drastic change in Teng’s attitude before and after only proved one matter”He lifted one finger and his tone was serious”The prince’s existence must mean something.”
Thales could feel his fingernails dig into his palm. The mercenaries grew restless and they began whispering to each other.
Stake could not care less and only had his eyes fixed on Ricky who held the highest rank among the mercenaries. “Capture him, and I will be able to reveal Teng’s secret; find out why he has been so interested in the Jadestar Royal Family, and the real motive behind his crazy decision over the major business deal during the Bloody Year.
“What do you say? Do you want to work with us to discover this secret?”
The commotion among the mercenaries turned into an uproar. Thales could even hear Marina gritting her teeth behind him. Klein the Northlander swordsman leaned towards Masked Man and whispered to him, but Masked Man only shook his head lightly.
It was only until Ricky raised his hand impassively that the whispers in the area quieted down.
The leader of the mercenaries did not pursue what the other man claimed to be a secret, but only asked softly, “What about Teng? How is he?”
When they moved to this topic, Stake’s face turned dark, as if a shadow had been cast over him. He and Ricky watched each other quietly, but the latter’s calm expression showed where his attitude and focus lay.
Stake could only sigh faintly. “It is uncertain whether he is alive or dead.”
The three leaders of Disaster Sword frowned at the same time.
“But I can tell you that his condition is bad, very bad.” Stake quickly picked up from where the conversation was left as he held his hands together. “For a total of six years since then, Teng never showed up in the organisation. Even I have hardly received any orders from him. Even if there is”
He said gravely, “Including myself, there is more than one person in the organisation who began to doubt the present condition of the Shadow Master.”
After hearing what Stake said, Ricky inhaled lightly. ‘Crassus’ of the Disaster Sword revealed a strange expression. “Therefore, Shadow Shield is now a poisonous snake without its head.”
Masked Man added in a displeased manner. “This makes them even more dangerous since you would never know where the venom would be injected.”
Klein snorted. Stake could only respond by smiling awkwardly.
“What are you doing here then?” Ricky shook his head. “Are you here to discover his secret so that you may continue his unfinished mission?”
The smile on Stake’s face faded away.
“Needless to say, after Teng disappeared, Shadow Shield is at a crucial turning point.” Stake coughed. “As I said, capturing the prince is the key to solving this puzzle. It is a summary of what Teng has done in the past ten years.”
Masked Man sneered. “It sounds like you are displeased with your master… Are you?”
“Displeased?” Stake’s expression was cryptic at first, but he resolutely shook his head afterwards. “No, I have come here to rescue the desperate Shadow Shield from their tight spot and difficulties.
“We must not go on like this. Shadow Shield needs to raise its spirits, get back on its feet and seek new stimuli”
Masked Man interrupted him again. “Or a new leader. I suppose you wanted to say that?”
Stake’s words instantly died in his mouth.
In a knowing tone, Masked Man said indifferently, “It has been twenty years since Teng came to the Western Peninsula. A ‘Shadow Master’ for twenty years You keep a ‘good tradition’ of changing your leader once every few years, don’t you? He has indeed been in the role of leader for too long.”
Stake’s expression turned cold.
“You actually do not have to drop hints like this. The reason I reveal these secrets in your presence is only to win your trust,” Stake said coldly, “To prove to you that Shadow Shield, at least the part where I lead is concerned, no longer holds the old perceptions from Teng’s time, and we should not bear the treatment and bad reputation from said time.”
Once the words were uttered, Masked Man snorted lightly and shook his head while Klein chuckled. Unexpectedly, it was Marina who responded to Stake.
“This is silly,” said the red-clad woman in a tone that was filled with hatred. “What kind of ‘bad reputation’ do you think we can give to smelly sewer rats?”
Upon hearing this refutation, Stake furrowed his brow and glanced at Ricky, only to see that he was not the least bit unhappy about being interrupted.
He could only let out a sigh and turned towards Marina. “I do not speak without basis.”
While enduring Marina’s hateful gaze, Stake said with a heart full of sorrow, “In the past, Shadow Shield was not chased by the masses with sticks and stones like rats, we once had a noble and venerable ideology.”
The mercenaries looked at each other, speechless.
Stake took a deep breath. “A thousand years ago, when the Empire was finally re-established, all forces of power were newly born. Those with power in high positions created endless battles and riots. They enslaved and oppressed the people. The helpless people experienced famine, death, pain and torture again and again.”
A hopeful look appeared in Stake’s eyes.
“So, when they were driven to the end of their rope, a group of people emerged because the times required it. They came from humble birth, had lowly names and family names, and had little power. Yet, they still stood up with weapons to fight in unfavourable conditions against the greater powers, risked their lives, and launched attacks in the shadows using the most primitive as well as most powerless and clumsiest of tactics to assassinate the tyrants, resist tyranny, and retaliate against the strong forces of power. They placed themselves in front of the ruler’s brutal regime and the dukes’ ruthlessness to be the voice of the suffering commoners.”
There was a trace of approval in Ricky’s eyes. “It is rare that you know of your organization’s past compared to the killers who strike blindly. It is a good thing.”
There was movement between Thales’ eyebrows. It was the first time he heard about Shadow Shield being narrated from this perspective.
Stake bowed slightly before letting out a long breath. His eyes flickered.
“There was a time when we were the final hope of the unfortunate people, the vanguards of the revolution and brave warriors of the resistance who would not turn back. We employed unimaginable strategies at great cost to threaten, remind, and warn those tyrants of eminent status who preyed on the people. Under the far-reaching shadow of the rulers, there would always be dissatisfaction that would turn into the strongest and most intractable shield at any moment to protect the powerless individuals, whom were trampled under the rulers’ feet.”
Ricky did not move while Klein and Masked Man reacted through their expressions, the former looked disdainful while the latter let out an angry snort.
Stake was once again interrupted.
“How can you be so shameless, describing such despicable acts as noble? The final hope? Bah!” Marina said through gritted teeth, “You scum. Do you know that during the Bloody Year, because of you, the families of millions of innocent people were left destitute or dead?”
Stake threw a glance at Marina, feeling a little stunned. His expression was complicated. “I cannot say you are wrong, lass.”
Stake lowered his head and sighed as he said, “The truth is, after a thousand years, the Shadow Shield that once vowed to fight with their lives in desperate times had fallen and turned into this filthy existence after having to follow others blindly, and making compromises every day without a choice.”
He clenched his fists, then hissed through his teeth seemingly in indignation, “Seeking personal profit and gains shamelessly,living without any goals. How disgusting.”
The air in the tavern grew still for a moment.
“Oh, wow. A noble, pure and high class Shadow Assassin who shook off all the crude tastes of his organization,” Klein said sarcastically while shaking his head. “It’s rare to see one.”
Stake still had his fists clenched as if he had not seen the others’ gazes. He heard Klein’s sarcastic remark and Marina’s snort.
“After Teng came here, we became even worse than before.” Stake’s face tensed up whereas his breaths quickened. “It started eighteen years ago when he tricked us, contacted all parties and launched an attack against the Jadestar Royal Family. It started from that shocking serial assassination.”
Thales’ heart pounded faster and faster. ‘My Home is letting me in on too much information tonight.’
Stake lifted his head abruptly and said in exasperation, “As Shadow Master, he never revealed the names of the clients who offered us that deal, but he used every means to trick us to overlook the underlying risks.”
“Teng said it in a very pleasing manner: Shadow Shield has long had enough of roaming about poverty-stricken back alleys, taking up insignificant deals that only reward us with a few pennies from peasants in the village, and getting rewards from rich or poor barons and government officials where we only bring justice to the stolen and slaughtered livestock in villages. He even said that we will do great things, and that we should return to our roots.”
Stake looked around with the flames of fury in his eyes, as if seeking recognition.
“He told us that Constellation would collapse following an unprecedentedly large business deal. This would signify the beginning of a new era, one that would be born from chaos and confusionour golden era. The reins on the horses would be lashed, blood would be spilled, the fields would burn, and fear would germinate. These troubled times would be the moment for us to shine and demonstrate our talent and skills, we would support the collapsing kingdom, and rise rapidly towards success, just like how we rose a thousand years ago. The world that would be awaken from its dreams, and would remember us and need us once again.”
Stake painted a description that was so vivid that Thales could imagine Teng’s tone of voice when he said those words in the past.
‘But… The names of the clients.’ Thales had noticed this phrase.
‘In the Bloody Year, who could it be that would want to see the end of the Jadestar Royal Family?’
Stake exhaled a breath of air while his expression and tone dimmed simultaneously. “I have to say, he is good with words, and has extraordinary tactics while being equipped with power and influence that came with his new promotion as leader of Shadow Shield. A part of the organisation were convinced by his words while others had no choice but to obey him in order to live.”
Klein showed his disdain. “I guess you’re saying that you are part of those ‘who had no choice but to obey him’?”
Stake shook his head. “That does not matter. What matters is the consequences. Look at what Teng and his crazy plans has brought us.”
Stake stretched out his hands and looked rather dejected.
“Chaos? Of course. The battles in the Bloody Year did indeed cause the entire country to descend into chaos, bringing harm to not only the commoners, but also hitmen and assassins like us, and even mercenaries like you. If anyone could be killed by the soldiers in a war, what use could hitmen possibly be? In times where the flames of war burned continuously, if we could not even find a peaceful and quiet land to rest and rejuvenate, how could we possibly talk about bribing others and assassinations?
“That chaos did not last long. At least, not long enough for the arrival of our golden era. It was all over before it even began.” Stake looked conflicted, like he was experiencing hell.
“For a good eighteen years, Teng set us against the people around us. Shadow Shield had not only been hiding within the borders of Constellation, we did not even have a place to call home even outside Constellation. We have had to face the persistent pursuits of extermination from the Secret Intelligence Department and their allies. You can never imagine how we made it through those days. Everything was horrible.”
Stake’s eyes were cold. “That was a business deal with no winners in sight.”
Thales’ heart froze.
“If we must say there is indeed one After the disaster, Constellation did not lose terribly, and we did not launch the beginning of the golden era for assassins and Shadow Shield. On the contrary, Constellation rose from the ruins with the new king, employing even more ruthless tactics to rule the country, and the power of the throne was more dominant than ever.
“We once planted our hopes and relied on the endless feuding battles between the dukes and noblemen to survive, but much to our surprise, they began to disappear under the iron fist of the new king, until none of these feuds could be found anymore. The promised chaotic future that was built upon the collapse of Constellation not only did not come, but was pushed even further away from our grasp.
“It’s funny, but sometimes we subordinates wonder if Teng, who had initiated the assassination, was the spy that was sent from Constellation.”
The last narration was made by Stake using a bitter tone that made him sound as if he was crying and laughing at the same time.
The people could not refrain from frowning. Ricky and the others exchanged glances.
“You had asked earlier if I am ‘displeased’ with Teng, right?” Stake shook his head immediately while his eyes flashed with hatred. “No, the word that you chose is too simple; it is not enough to describe even one ten-thousandth of our feelings towards Teng.
“In twenty years, Teng has brought upon Shadow Shield disaster.”
The tavern sank into silence again.
Thales was the only one who was still immersed in his thoughts. ‘Teng. What kind of man is he?’
“You mentioned that six years ago, Teng showed up and put himself at risk in Dragon Clouds City, but was ambushed and is now on his deathbed?” Ricky’s voice rose and brought Thales away from his thoughts.
Stake nodded his head politely. “Yes?”
Ricky touched his chin and smiled faintly with bright, sparkling eyes.
“For the time being, we shall put aside whether we can trust your words or not. How could a man who is as cautious as Teng be discovered in Dragon Clouds City when you have had it under your jurisdiction for so long?”
Stake’s face tensed. Ricky snorted.
“So, either you are spewing nonsense, or” Ricky’s smile turned cold. “The man who is negotiating with us right now is a man who has not resigned to being a subordinate, and killed his master out of fury”
Ricky’s eyes shone with a cold, still glare. “…A traitor.”
The terrifying, suffocating silence returned to the tavern. Everyone watched Stake strangely.
‘Damn it.’ Stake rubbed his sweaty palms together. ‘This so-called Crassus’
Ricky was as still as a statue while he waited for Stake’s response. A few seconds passed, and the latter took a deep breath.
“As a matter of fact…”
Finally, at this moment, Stake no longer smiled, but there was a cold look on his face and a fierce glare shone in his eyes.
“If you have not been loyal to someone or something… what is there to betray?”
As soon as he finished speaking, Klein and Masked Man’s gazes became more severe as they stared at Stake. Ricky smiled unexpectedly.
The leader of Disaster Sword said calmly and faintly, “You must be afraid of him, aren’t you? Afraid of Teng.”
Stake’s body quivered.
“Whether it’s how you subconsciously mimic his speech and mannerism, or how you painstakingly express your hatred and dissatisfaction towards him, you can’t conceal the fear that you inadvertently revealed.”
Stake’s breathing stopped for a moment. Ricky seemed to have gotten a hold of his weakness.
“To you, he is like a mountain that can’t be surpassed, a shadow that has no end, isn’t he? You desperately want to know his secret because you are eager to surpass Teng.”
Stake gulped lightly. His lips trembled, but his voice was not heard. He seemed to be struggling with something.
It was as if his eloquence and neverending words just a second ago lost all their color at this moment. In the end, Ricky looked at him and clicked his tongue while shaking his head.
“Come.” Ricky did not pursue the matter. He leaned against his seat and snapped his fingers. “It is time we talked about our collaboration.”
Stake was dumbfounded as he did not seem to think that Ricky would so easily lead them back to the main topic he wanted to dwell on.
“Then” Ricky was seen clenching his hands tightly. His eyes shone with a chilling glare. “For our possible collaboration, could you tell me something about the prince?”
Thales stilled and tried to act naturally while he listened from the side.
“How did you discover him?”
A few seconds later, Stake inhaled deeply and smiled. A man in simple clothes was led into the tavern a moment later.
The new guest had few things with him and was travel-worn; there was tiredness on his face born from being constantly on the move. However, even when he was facing all the hostile-looking swordsmen in the tavern, he maintained his manners and pride, walked with his head held high, and at first glance, found the person in the tavern who made the decisions.
Stake was all smiles. “Allow me to introduce you to this man. This is Baron Lasalle Weider.”
As he spoke, the new guest bowed slightly.
Thales moved a little. He subconsciously felt that he had seen this man before. ‘But’
Ricky frowned a little. “Baron?”
There was skepticism on Klein’s face, and he said softly, “Weider, I remember that this family name belongs to the noblemen in Northland. The name seems to belong to some low-ranked vassal with a fiefdom. That family’s rank is so low that they are insignificant.”
The new guest stood up and revealed an old but stern face. Lasalle nodded and said,
“You can forgo the titles. My fiefdom has long since been taken back, and my title, too, was stripped from me.”
He added expressionlessly, “Now, I am just Lasalle Weider.”
“You are far too humble.” On the other side, Stake swung his hands and added excitedly, “Right then, you are our most reliable source of information, our business partner and backup plan”
A doubtful look appeared on Ricky’s face. ‘Business partner?’
But the newcomer Lasalle did not show any intention for small talk. He interrupted Stake straightaway.
Lasalle shook his head and spoke in a direct manner. “I’m already fed up with all the diplomatic language used during diplomatic affairs, so I’ll get straight to the point.
“A few days ago, we received a piece of information.” His expression was stern and his voice was deep. It made everyone else unable to help but listen to him attentively. “An informant noticed Thales Jadestar’s tracks in the desert.”
Thales felt his heart thump. Even Quick Rope had stopped moving.
“The informant has already located the target, but due to a lack of personnel, and because he was in enemy territory, he had to ask for our help and arrange for a retreat after their mission.”
Lasalle continued with a frown. “The deadline for the retreat was yesterday night. Based on the plan, our informant wanted to bring the hostage to us.”
Ricky listened to Lasalle recount what he knew. The doubtful look on his face never once disappeared. Thales only stared at the ground and did not move.
“But even when morning arrived, the informant had not responded to us.” Lasalle exhaled and said with a fierce expression, “For that, we have reason to believe that the informant has failed. This is also why I have ignored tradition and have come here today to ask for help from you both.”
Lasalle stared at the smiling Stake, then at Ricky who did not seem as if he wanted to oblige Lasalle with any of his attention.
The new guest gritted his teeth and said, “There is a high possibility that Thales Jadestar had escaped from our control and received official protection from the camp, and we need to act swiftly before the army sends aid. We have to snatch the target back. We’re short on time, it’ll be best if we can act as soon as possible.”
Ricky exchanged glances with his comrades. “Do you have any clues?”
Lasalle nodded. “Our informant is a mercenary.” Lassalle looked around him with a stern expression.
“His name in the desert is Big Dean.”