The strange wail lasted for a whole five or six seconds before it slowly faded away. Everyone’s faces were pale.
Only the echoes were left. They floated in the dark and empty hall, barely discernible, and brought a chill to everyone’s hearts.
“What’s the matter?” Ricky furrowed his brow and barked out an order, “Report!”
The Disaster Swords turned their heads together as they nervously searched for the source of the scream. More than a dozen torches were raised to light up the surrounding area. The group members were like adventurers exploring and developing a wasteland. They were nervous while on the lookout for the unfamiliar, and the unknown.
The surprised and bewildered Thales stopped using hell’s senses. Except for the dust, the old stone table, and the cells full of bones, he saw nothing else.
Ricky’s command was passed down from person to person, from the hall to the heavily guarded stone steps.
“No.” After a long while, Shawn spoke from behind them while huffing and puffing. “It’s not from us. Everything at the rear is normal.”
The worry on Ricky’s face became more prominent.
Meanwhile, Stake spoke in low whispers with a subordinate who appeared out of nowhere before the latter retreated into the darkness. Then, Stake solemnly raised his head.
“It’s also not us… it’s something else.”
Ricky turned to Samel and cast an inquisitive look at the former Constellatiate noble.
Samel seemed to have discovered something. He looked at the iron sign next to the iron curtain in slight surprise, then at a hanging ring next to the iron plate.“So this is”
However, at that moment…
The heart-breaking, blood-curdling, and pained scream traveled faintly from the darkness again. Everyone’s hearts tensed once more!
This time, the horrible ‘ghostly wail’ was accompanied by a piercing and unbearable screech, formed by someone scratching on something.
Almost everyone subconsciously frowned, and some even covered their ears with their hands.
“What the hell?!” Lasalle face’s twitched. “What’s going on?!”
While the harsh and unpleasant noise continued, Ricky grabbed his sword hilt tightly and suppressed his annoyance before he asked Samel, “Do you think this is related to the Alchemy Tower?”
Thales gritted his teeth tightly, and felt that this sound made him incredibly nervous. It was similar to a sound he remembered in his past life, of someone scratching the blackboard with their fingernails.
When he thought of this, he was suddenly stunned. ‘Scratching a blackboard?’
At this point, the contemplating Samel suddenly said, “I know what this is!” Samel turned his head around and looked delighted, like a lost traveler who found a water source in the desert.
“This is is the scratching of nails on the surface of rough metal!” Samel touched the surface of the iron curtain and said excitedly, “It’s coming from behind this curtain!”
Everyone was stunned! Countless pairs of eyes looked at the heavy and strange iron curtain. Thales looked at the iron plate next to the iron curtain and used hell’s senses.
[Angelo, male, born Year 622 in Walla Hill]
[Imprisoned in Year 653. Crimes: Murder, robbery, theft, murder of nobles, unlawful assembly]
[Adjudicator: Johnny Brennan, Judge of Jade City]
[Warden: Joshua Covendier, Viscount of Arch Sea City]
[Warden: Garrett Luhmann, Baron of Blade Fangs Camp]
‘Imprisoned in Year 653…’ Thales wrinkled his brow slightly. There was another name on the iron plate:
[Fowler, male, born Year 613, somewhere in the Eastern Peninsula]
[Imprisoned in Year 653. Crimes: Smuggling, theft, tax evasion]
[Adjudicator: Johnny Brennan, Judge of Jade City]
[Warden: Joshua Covendier, Viscount of Arch Sea City]
[Warden: Garrett Luhmann, Baron of Blade Fangs Camp]
[Note: Died in Year 672]
Ricky seemed to have figured something out. He looked at the iron curtain, then at the iron plate next to him. Surprise appeared on his face. “So, the lone thief written on the plate is still alive?”
The pained wailing and scratching sounds gradually weakened. It then turned into a low-pitched whine.
This time, Thales recognized the sound. This was someone sobbing, but when it went through the thick iron curtain, the pitch changed.
Everyone’s eyes were focused on the iron curtain and whatever that was behind it.
“I understand now.” Before everyone’s eyes, Samel walked to the middle of the iron curtain. Under the light, he scrutinized the special room covered by the iron curtain.
“This is the switch for the Black Prison. I don’t know whether it was built with the Alchemy Tower, or whether it was modified by the Constellatiates.
“The cells we saw earlier are full of bones, but those are all empty cells. This one with the iron curtain is the only cell with anyone alive.” Samel looked at the hanging ring on the wall carefully. His voice was a little grave. “This ring is the switch that controls the opening and closing of this iron curtain.”
The distorted sobs behind the iron curtain continued to linger in the air.
As he listened to Samel’s words, Thales looked at everything in the hall with complex feelings. His eyes swept over the thick dust, and over the workmanship in the hall that was inconspicuous but unique, and might have been made one thousand years ago…
“Beldin. He’s a veteran of the Royal Guards, and the chief penal officer after Zakriel was promoted. He was responsible for bringing criminals sentenced by the royal family to the Prison of Bones. He told me many years ago that the felons in Black Prison suffered from the pain of dying and living at the same time. I never understood what he meant until today.”
Samel’s hand gently stroked the ring, and swept off a layer of dust. His tone was airy.
“The living prisoners are locked inside the cell. The iron curtains then rise and isolate them from the light and the hall. The supplies are thrown down through holes above them, but they will only land behind the iron curtain, into the hands of the cells with the living inside them.”
He looked incredulously at the other empty cells around him. Then, he swept his gaze over the dried skeletons behind the bars.
“By doing so, the despair of being isolated from the world descends on the prisoners, but the hope of dragging out their miserable existences is also given to them. Two kinds of suffering,” said Samel dully. His face was very unpleasant. Everyone fell silent.
The former Baron Lasalle had a grave look on his face. “Why isn’t this prisoner behind the iron curtain talking or calling for help? Why is he only wailing like a ghost and scratching the curtain?”
Stake shrugged, and did not speak. The one who answered him was Josef, whom was rescued by the Disaster Swords.
“Because he can’t.” Josef shook his head. It startled Lasalle slightly.
“It’s just like practicing with the sword. If you don’t practice it for one day, your skills will become rusty. As I have said, when you are isolated from the world, and stay in a lonely cell with no other people for too long, so long that it exceeds your imagination…” The Disaster Sword whom had just been released from the Prison of Bones looked at each person, and those who met his eyes felt a chill.
“Trust me, you will lose more than just time and freedom.”
Thales stared at the cell behind the iron curtain. He felt that the air here had become a lot colder.
“What the hell?” Klein stared at the iron curtain with a burning gaze. He paid attention to the movements behind it. “The Prison of Bones, does this place want people… to be dead or alive?”
No one answered. There was only that indistinct sobbing.
‘Does this place want people… to be dead or alive?’ Thales stared at the hefty iron curtain with a heavy heart.
After a few seconds, Stake sighed. “Or neither.”
Ricky twitched his mouth and interrupted the depressing conversation, “I think we are on the right track.” He turned around. “Keep going.”
The Disaster Swords followed him, and started to move one after another.
“We’re going to leave just like this, without caring about the prisoner behind the curtain?” Lasalle raised his eyebrows and looked at the heavy iron curtain.
Stake shook his head and smiled disdainfully. “Why should we care?”
With indescribable emotions in them, everyone turned around. Thales gave one last look at the heavy iron curtain. His heart, too, was heavy. The lights that shone in the dark left the hall. They left the iron curtain behind them, along with the wailing that became more and more agonized and miserable.
They continued on with their journey, but it was clear that the discovery just now made the Disaster Swords considerably more motivated, since they came to this place with a goal in mind. Soon, they moved down, and the halls they passed through got bigger and bigger. The cells in each hall increased in number, from nine, ten, up to a dozen, twenty…
What made Thales uneasy was that there was more than one iron curtain covering these cells. In other words…
“We found out how this place works.” After going down countless floors, Samel frowned and looked at another iron curtain in front of him. He looked at the sign above and said, “The real Black Prison are the floors below the tenth floor.”
Klein nodded, ignoring the crazy banging behind the curtains. “It seems that that is true.”
Ricky straightened his back once he read the iron plate beside another iron curtain. On it was the prisoner’s profile.
[Tucker Peng, male, born Year 630 in the city of Zodra]
[Imprisoned in Year 661. Crimes: Robbery, leading a rebellion]
[Adjudicator: Kessel Jadestar, the Supreme King]
[Warden: Honorary Baron Klaus Chatham]
[Warden: Roman Williams, Baron of Blade Fangs Camp]
Thales looked at these iron plates while feeling depressed.Besides the lone bandit they first met imprisoned alone in his cell, they found occupied prisons on every floor they descended.
All of these cells were covered with heavy iron curtains. Some of the prisoners could only cry out in agony, and some could still cry for help, though those were rare and far in between Some of them only had dead silence.
According to Samel and the vague details on the iron plate, in these prisons were a viscountess who murdered her husband and child, pirates who robbed merchant ships, frustrated nobles who launched revolts, and a person who killed thirty-four people in a single night to avenge his family.
Ricky did not care about these prisoners. He simply continued downwards.
The further down they went, the crimes of the criminals became more grave, horrible, complicated, hard to discern, treacherous, and difficult to judge.
Thales walked through the floors, past the cells and the curtains. Among the prisoners, he saw Robin Hood-like figures who stole from military supplies to help the commoners during the Bloody Year war. He also saw people who killed their incompetent superiors to become generals, and led the army to kill their enemies, eventually winning the battle.
There were even high-ranking nobles who were generous, kind, noble, righteous, and had a great reputation.
“Why is he locked up?”
The Northland swordsman Klein stood before the cell of the nobleman and his subordinates. He frowned at the iron curtain and the iron plate. “Based on what you said, he is generous, kind, and has a good reputation. Is this a crime as well?”
“Of course it’s wrong.” Lasalle stood by his side and coldly said, “Because his ancestor was a prince who received his own fiefdom and formed his own family. He is a close relative of the royal family with the blood of the Jadestar Royal Family coursing through his veins.
“In the eyes of the king of his era, this was called ‘being too ambitious, and up to no good’.
“Did I ever tell you that there was never a lack of these bloody struggles over power in the history of Constellation? These struggles have been around since the time of the Empress Dowager Iron Spike, Sumer the First, Erica, and the Red King.”
A thought came to Thales. He gave a sideward glance at Quick Rope, who was far away on the other side of the hall.
At the side, Samel was somewhat startled. He snorted, and continued to move forward.
Along the way, they passed by countless prison cells covered by iron curtains, and met with a criminal who made great contributions to the kingdom, but at the same time was highly corrupt; a priest who preached that all gods were one and that all things were determined by fate; and a historian who insisted on raking up old and taboo cases from the era of the Red King.
“And there’s this person. I remember him. This is a scholar who was thrown in for writing some books.” Stake looked at a cell and said with a smile, “He seems to be locked up with a noble who instigated a private war, and has been imprisoned for thirty years.”
When he heard this, Thales could not help but say, “A scholar? Why?”
Samel walked up from behind them, and said coldly, “Because he wrote a book talking about how the power of the people was higher than the royal power, and how the teachings of the people were higher than religious teachings.”
Thales was stunned, and was instantly rendered speechless.
“Your ancestors did not take his life. They just threw him in here. It was already considered a very kind gesture, Your Highness.” Samel’s gaze made Thales quite uneasy. “Each of these people’s stories are incomparably complex, mysterious, and legendary. They are grand enough that bards had joyfully written songs about them for three days and three nights.”
Samel stared at the iron plate in front of him with a strange gaze. When he spoke next, there was an underlying meaning in his words.
“Many times, the kingdom could not determine whether they should live or die, or hold them accountable for their crimes using the existing laws.”
Thales frowned. “So, you mean, the Prison of Bones is”
Samel only interrupted him, saying quietly, “Now, they are confined behind these iron curtains, waiting for time to kill them.”
Samel was still staring at Thales. His eyes were sharp and full of unspeakable emotion.
It made the uneasy Thales look elsewhere to avoid direct eye contact.
Lasalle rubbed his chin and was deep in contemplation. “I was thinking. If you free these more or less strange felons and control them, could they towards Constellation”
Ricky interrupted him coldly, “That’s not our goal. As our guest, you don’t have to do anything… unnecessary.”
Lasalle grunted in displeasure. In the dark, Stake coughed and caught everyone’s attention. He then narrowed his eyes and said,
“I don’t know if all of you have noticed it, but the empty cells in the first few floors were dried skeletons. And now” He turned and looked at the sight behind several empty cells. “The empty cells before us are occupied by mummies, and some have a slight smell.”
Ricky’s expression changed. “Are you saying?”
Stake’s expression was stern. “Either these prisoners just died a few years ago, or we are already so deep underground that even corpses decompose much more slowly here.”
‘So deep underground…’ Thales’ mood sank to rock bottom.
Stake slowly expressed his intentions. “Honorable Crassus, if you continue to search so aimlessly, are you sure that we can return to the surface safely within our time limit?”
Ricky’s expression did not change. He raised his torch. “How long have we been walking?”
Klein who stood beside him replied quietly, “More than half an hour, and we went down eighteen floors.”
Ricky was silent. He looked at Samel.
Samel shook his head. He still looked as determined as ever.“We should be there soon. We must find him. Only then will we have our answer.”
Ricky was quiet for a while, then he nodded solemnly. Everyone turned around again to search for their unknown goal. Stake smiled helplessly once he found that his advice was of no use.
“It’s too big here, they wouldn’t be able to find it.” Lasalle snorted, but still followed them.
“Yes, it is too big, but what surprised me the most is that, although the air is a little stagnant and the smell a bit pungent, I do not feel that it is difficult to breathe here,” Stake said to Lasalle who was beside him.
“Look at this building. It’s the Confinement Research Center, right?”
Stake looked around. Then, to the increasingly impatient Lasalle, he exclaimed, “The so-called wizards during that time must have been very powerful.”
Thales had a thought. He saw Ricky discuss something with Samel while they walked ahead.
“Yeah.” Thales walked to Stake’s side, as if he had nothing in mind, and said sincerely, “I think so, too. It’s a large building buried deep in the ground, but everything is done meticulously, be it is the preservation, layout, or the ventilation.”
Stake gave a surprised look at Thales. This was the first time the prince took the initiative to speak to him.
Thales smiled and said, “My father told me about the Prison the Bones. According to him, the wizards were really amazing existences. They can constantly bring you surprise.”
Sure enough, in the next second, Thales saw Stake’s expression change.
Their search did not last long. Soon, on the next level, they came to an unprecedentedly large hall.
It was still covered in dust, still a ruin, and still had a thick stone pillar. Thales looked around and found that there were nearly thirty cells in this place.
Five of them were covered by thick iron curtains. The bars and prisoners behind it could not be seen. Samel stood firmly before one of the cells and raised his torch.
Thales heard it clearly. During that second, Samel’s breathing suddenly quivered in the quiet darkness. The fire of the torch in his hand flickered.
“Yes.” Samel’s voice quivered. “This is… our goal.”
The mentally-exhausted people instantly jolted. Ricky stepped forward, he then looked at each iron plate seriously. Thales used hell’s senses and tried to see the iron plate clearly.
[Quill Barney Junior, male, born Year 631 in Eternal Star City]
[Imprisoned in Year 661. Crimes: Collaboration with the enemy]
[Adjudicator: Kessel Jadestar, the Supreme King]
[Warden: Cyril Fakenhaz, Mayor of the Ruins, Guardian Duke of Western Desert]
[Warden: Bob Cullen, Mayor of Splendid Port City, Guardian Duke of the Eastern Sea]
[Warden: Leinster Covendier, Mayor of Jade City, Guardian Duke of the South Coast]
[Warden: Val Arunde, Mayor of Cold Castle, Guardian Duke of the Northern Territory]
[Warden: Appointed Count Lewis Bozdorf, Mayor of Brave Souls Fort]
[Warden: Appointed Count Davon Kroma, Mayor of Wing Fort]
[Warden: Honorary Lord Morat Hansen, Chief of Intelligence]
[Warden: Honorary Lord Arracca Murkh]
[Warden: Honorary Lord Roman Williams]
[Warden: Honorary Lady Sonia Sasere]
‘Quill Barney Junior… who is this person?’
When he saw this iron plate, the time of imprisonment, and the names of the unusual adjudicator and wardens, Thales became filled with even more questions.
‘So many prominent and extraordinary wardens… And his crime was… collaboration with the enemy?’
“Wow.” Stake’s voice rose beside him. He seemed to have understood something. “This is THAT Barney?”
Samel took a deep breath. He knocked on one of the iron curtains and tried to pull the hanging ring next to the cell, only to find that it refused to budge.
He seemed somewhat disappointed, and turned his head around, no longer facing the iron plate.
“Is there a way to open the iron curtain? These five cells… All of them?”
Ricky smiled. He brought out the rod-like ‘key’ again, and walked to the stone pillar in the middle of the hall. The dust was blown away, and the emblem of the Alchemy Tower was exposed under the light.
Ricky put the key into the hole in the center, just like how he had done before. He waited for it to jut out before he nodded at Samel.
Samel took a deep breath and gestured at the others. Five people walked in front of the five cells, placed their hands on the dusty rings, and pulled them with force.
Five unpleasant sounds of machinery rose into the air.
The next second…
The sound of friction echoed. The fire of the torches in the hall flickered simultaneously!
A lot of dust suddenly fell from the juncture where the five iron curtains connected with the ceiling.
The sound of friction traveled to their ears.
Soon, Thales noticed a gap between the iron curtain and the ceiling. Metal bars could be seen from the gap. It also revealed the darkness behind it.
‘Falling,’ Thales thought. ‘The iron curtain is falling.’
He could not help but clench his fists.
Gradually, more of the iron curtain fell, and as it did, it let out an unpleasant, scraping noise. The lights shone on the metal bars that had appeared in their sights after the iron curtains fell.
Compared to the empty cells, these bars were not covered in dust. When light shone on them, they reflected a smooth, metallic glow.
However, the light only illuminated a small part of the cell. The area behind the bars was still shrouded in darkness.
A strange, pungent smell came from behind the iron curtain. Everyone did not care about it. They trained their full attention on the five cells behind the falling curtains with incredible hope in their hearts.
The iron curtains fell lower, and in the end, completely descended to the ground. None of it could be seen again.
A muffled thud arose. Thales knew that the iron curtain had been completely drawn to reveal darkness.