Chapter 421 Knew Clearly
The ominous and horrifying atmosphere lingered for a long time in the black prison.
Even after Ricky’s laughter and Zakriel’s sobs had both faded, Thales still sensed the frightful atmosphere in the air that could make someone’s hair stand on end.
‘The Bloody Year. Aydi the Second. The Jadestar Royal Family… and the only perfect, anti-mystic equipment that could threaten the Magic Empresses’
Thales breathed absentmindedly. He had just realized that his hands and feet were shaking. The secret he obtained just now shocked the prince too greatly.
Thales lowered his head and looked at his left hand. There were still a few faint scars on his palm that were hardly discernible if he did not look closely for them.
Six years ago, he used this hand to hold the forbidden weapon and sealed Giza away… It was the Blade of Purification which, quite likely, had been the culprit that destroyed the Jadestar Royal Family.
When he remembered its name (probably not a coincidental name) and how it had called out to him in that bizarre manner, as thought it had sentience. Thales could not help but clench his fists as his chest tightened.
‘What the hell was that thing?’
Numerous questions surged through his mind. Goosebumps broke out on his skin as well.
“We should go.”
Beside him, Ricky put away the happy expression, born from his reminiscence. The indifferent look returned to his face again. “We’ll stop here for today.”
However, just as he was about to turn around…
Samel, similarly astonished, sighed and looked inside the cell at Zakriel.“One last question.”
Under the dim light, the Knight of Judgment sat on the floor dejectedly. He was filled with sadness. Ricky frowned slightly, but did not say anything in the end.
Samel stepped towards the prison bars, the shadows from the bars were forced towards Zakriel by the light, approaching the corner where he was hiding.
Samel sucked in a deep breath, he seemed to be hesitating.
“Zakriel, just now, Barney told me that there was a traitor among the Royal Guards that year who betrayed His Majesty, and His Highness.”
Zakriel trembled in the cell. He looked up with a glazed look in his eyes; his gaze was unfocused.
Thales forcefully put away the complex thoughts in his mind and watched them.
“Barney gave an exaggerated account of things, but he sounded quite logical.” When he thought of the scenario from earlier, pain appeared on Samel’s face. “Something about our people working together with the forces outside, delivering a false order from the the crown prince, deliberately leading us in circles, and then lurking among us after the entire accident nonsense like that.”
Zakriel sat leaning against the wall. He looked at Samel quietly, but he lowered his face slightly so that it was immersed in the shadows and could not be seen properly.
Samel chuckled lightly, though no one knew whether it was out of mockery or self-deprecation.
“It seems that a traitor really did exist.” There was indescribable grief in Samel’s voice. “So long as he is found, Barney and the others can free themselves of their burden, or at the very least, be able to atone for their sins.”
Zakriel sighed as though he had not recovered from the shock he had received just now.
However, at least he spoke, and he sounded casual, like he was sleep-talking. “Is it?”
Samel tensed up. Then, he seemed to have made up his mind. He gritted his teeth and said, “So, Zakriel, I must ask this: Was it you? That year, the traitor… was it you?”
This question brought on different reactions on Thales and Ricky’s faces: The former fell silent, the latter was indifferent.
Zakriel reacted like a slow old man and only reacted after a few seconds. He slowly raised his head, and looked at Samel from the dark corner where even the light found hard to reach.
“That year, we were in a critical situation. We were surrounded by enemies.” Samel exhaled and gritted his teeth. He seemed to be forcing out his words. “Captain Cullen, Barney Senior, and Tony unconcernedly let you take charge of the main elite forces of the guards at the palace gates, and in the Hall of Stars. That main elite force was the forty-six people whom were later sentenced to imprisonment. They either watched you leave, or hoped that you would provide them with support…”
He clenched his fists subconsciously.
“Because they all know and believe that no matter how powerful the enemies were, if the Knight of Judgmentthe next Captain of the Guards they placed their hopes onled the team, then they would be able to resolve all dangers, and everything will be fine.”
Samel turned his head away, as if he could not bear to see the deeply shaken and utterly defeated man before him. “Unless… unless he is a traitor.”
The flag bearer gently closed his eyes. “Was it you, Zakriel?”
Both Thales and Ricky listened quietly.
In the cell, Zakriel breathed several times and slowly raised his head. “Was it me?” he repeated dumbly. He looked lost.
Samel opened his eyes slowly. There might be some reluctance in his eyes, but his tone was still firm.
“Zakriel, you may not be good at falsifying documents or spying, but you are the confidant of the crown prince, and you were even second-to-none when it came to fighting, not to mention that you also served as the chief flag bearer.”
The corners of Zakriel’s mouth twitched to form the ghost of a smile. As the light was quite dim, Thales could not see the exact expression above his mouth.
“Was it… me?” he repeated absentmindedly again and again.
Samel sighed. He did not seem to have any confidence that Zakriel would answer him in his current state. However, he paused for a few seconds before he spoke again firmly.
The flag bearer said through gnashing teeth, “Zakriel, I know that your mind is not clear, but it doesn’t matter. I believe, like many people, like me, there is only one thing in your memory that never fades.”
Samel raised his fist and hit his chest forcefully. It caused the other three people in the hall unable to help but look at him.
“Swear, Zakriel, in front of me, swear before the blood of a Jadestar.” Samel said firmly, his eyes shining with a cold glare. “With your honor, your dignity, your sword, your ancestors, your family, a Rudollian noble family which has a long-lasting legacy of swearing fealty to the throne since the Age of the Empire; swear, in the name of the Zakriel Family!”
Finally, when Zakriel heard these words, he trembled. The Knight of Judgment slowly stood up, revealing his branded face in the dim fire. His eyes slowly refocused.
Ricky seemed to be deep in thought.
Samel was breathing quickly. He continued while there was agony on his face. “Swear solemnly, Zakriel… that throughout your entire life, you have never betrayed the Jadestar Royal Family, never betrayed the Royal Guards, and never betrayed the oath of the Praetorian Guards!”
Zakriel’s face slowly grew dignified. The interval between Thales’ breathing became shorter.
“Tell me, tell me in person that you were not the traitor,” Samel said softly. There was a sense of helplessness in his voice. “Tell me.”
However, Zakriel did not answer, he just stared at Samel from a distance, his eyes cold.
For a period of time, only the breaths of the four people in the hall were heard. But in the next second…
Samel was seen stomping forward. He grabbed the bars of Zakriel’s cell. Ricky’s face changed slightly.
“I beg you!” Samel’s back was turned to Thales so his expression could not be seen. He sounded like he was gnashing his teeth.
Still, Zakriel stayed silent and just stared at him.
“Please, answer me, Knight of Judgment,” he said once more. This time, there was a pleading tone in Samel’s words. “This is too important.” His hands which held the bars began to tremble.
Finally, Zakriel snorted. The unfocused look disappeared, and lucidity returned to his eyes.
“Too important? They Why did Barney suspect you, Samel?” He curved the corner of his lips and shook his head silently. “Why did he ask you whether you were a traitor?”
Samel’s face went pale. He unknowingly let go of his grip on the bars though no one knew whether it was due to pain or other reasons. He took a step back, palms trembling.
“And you… Do you wish for me to be the traitor, or do you wish that I was not?” the Knight of Judgment laughed.
The hall was quiet for a long time. Samel’s head was bowed deeply. However, before long, a quiet sigh rose in the darkness.
Unexpectedly, Zakriel’s voice gradually rose. It increased in volume and in pitch.
He said indifferently, “I swear. I, Immanuel Zakriel, solemnly swear by my honor, my dignity, my sword, my ancestors, and the name of the Zakriel Family who have sworn fealty to the throne since the Age of the Empire”
Samel seemed encouraged. He lifted his head with a complicated look in his eyes.
As his speech progressed, Zakriel’s tone became more and more solemn. “In all my life, I have never betrayed the Jadestar Royal Family, and have never betrayed the oath of the Praetorian Guards.”
Thales’ eyebrows twitched. He seemed to have missed something.
Sure enough, Zakriel’s sigh traveled into his ears again. “The only ones I’ve let down is all of you.”
Samel’s breathing seemed to have been cut off. The Knight of Judgment’s dispirited and sorrowful voice continued rising into the air.
“I have let down Captain Cullen, Tony, Morion, Beldin, Kamil, Rogo, Tardin, Bruley, Naer, and you, Samel… I have let all my brothers in the Royal Guards down.”
Zakriel sounded like an old man in his twilight years repenting for the sins he had committed during his youth with his heart full of despair. Samel did not move.
“As a person who had high hopes placed on me, I was incompetent in the face of that storm, and I was powerless to protect all of you, help you, lead you, and fight through the obstacles with you all to win against danger.” Zakriel stared at Samel. He stared at the brand on his face and said with a glazed look in his eyes.
“I can only sit here, day after day, year after year, watching you all sink into obscurity here, and suffer endlessly.”
Thales turned his head and remembered the thirty-seven Emperor’s Praetorian Guards who died in the Prison of Bones. He remembered their gazes, either sluggish, desolate, free of burden, or crazed. He then looked at the unshaven Zakriel… and felt horrible.
Zakriel closed his eyes gently and forced out a single word which he had kept in his heart for years.
“Sorry.” He fell silent again.
Samel’s expression remained unchanged for a long time, but he slowly turned his head away.
“So, the traitor wasn’t you.” The flag bearer trembled lightly. “Perhaps the traitor has already died in prison… Or perhaps, there was no traitor at all. No one betrayed His Majesty and his family.”
Samel turned his head around at once. There was a faint pleading tone in his voice. “Maybe Maybe everything was just Barney’s delusions, since he’s a conspiracy theorist.”
Zakriel did not answer him immediately. Instead, he moved forward quietly to sit down in his original spot, which was surrounded by an air of desolation. After a long while, a faint sigh rose into the air.
“Maybe there was.”
Samel was somewhat surprised. “What?”
Zakriel had his head lean against the wall. The focus in his eyes seemed to have disappeared again.
“I think, perhaps there was a traitor.”
Once he said this, Samel, Thales, and even Ricky’s expression changed. Zakriel continued speaking, “But the traitor is not just anyone. They have neither face nor name.”
Samel frowned. “What do you mean?”
Zakriel shook his head with a resigned and hollow smile. “Our brothers of the Royal Guards came from noble families living in the capital of the kingdom.” He stared at the ceiling as if he could see the past there. The intonation in his voice began to fluctuate, and the rhythm of his words was steady.
“Barney, Beldin, Samel, Tardin, Zakriel… The old captain was from Sun Sword and Shield of the Six Great Clans. He was also the younger brother of the Guardian Duke of the Eastern Sea.
“They all have a high sense of honor and responsibility, even a sense of duty. They’re proud Constellatiates, and are proud of being descendants of the Empire. They regard the kingdom as their eternal home, and the place where they belong.”
As he listened to the Knight of Judgment’s words, Samel’s mind started to wander.
Zakriel changed the topic. “However… you only heard the man’s words. You heard about the secret regarding the Dragon Breaker, about… that year.” His expression became sad and full of anguish.
The other three were stunned. At the instant Zakriel’s breathing grew erratic, a flash of pain flashed on his face before it morphed into light chuckles that made him look as if he was twitching.
No one spoke.
“In truth, there were signs pointing to this happening long before the accident even occurred. I knew it, I should have known at that time.
“From the law-enforced power restriction on the aristocracy, from the trade laws, from His Majesty’s wedding, from the consultants who frequently entered and exited the palace, from the meetings convened from time to time, and from the increasingly fierce vassals when they had an audience with His Majesty… I should have seen it. Regardless of whether it was our brothers or other people, the doubts in their eyes had already been planted and was slowly sprouting.”
Samel did not speak.
“Look at what His Highness did, at the path His Highness took, the battles he took part in, and the enemies he chose.” The prisoner was still staring at the ceiling with mixed emotions. His laughter reeked of bitterness and remorse. “Look at how the future he decided wilfully for millions of Constellatiates.”
Thales listened to his words silently while he imagined what Aydi the Second had to face during that era.
Zakriel exhaled hoarsely.
When he thought of the Blade of Purification and the secret he just obtained, Thales could not help but frown.
Samel turned away. He looked like he could no longer bear listening to Zakriel.
“You and Barney, both of you are eager to find the traitor, but… I’m guessing… that the traitor, as you call him, was actually a person who harbored hope and looked forward to a bright future for the country. He learned of something like the Dragon Breaker, and took action. He was even willing to go against his conscience, stand against the will of the king”
Zakriel stared at the air with a dazed look. He was immersed in his own world. His words became more incoherent. “If they can no longer tell what betrayal and loyalty are… then it’s not impossible for them to betray His Majesty, right?”
Samel was stunned. However, Zakriel continued speaking absentmindedly.
“The question is, Samel, what position should we take to be able to blame them without hesitation? Do we look at them with the contempt of loyalists towards traitors? Do we blame them as people who are loyal, accusing them of being unfaithful?”
The air in the hall seemed to have frozen. The prisoner and the prison-breakers experienced different kinds of bitterness in the frozen atmosphere. In the end, after what seemed like a century, Samel’s expression changed.
“I don’t understand,” he said faintly.
Zakriel smiled. “Oh, I don’t understand either.”
The Knight of Judgment seemed to be slowly regaining his senses. He wrapped his arms around himself and sank his face into the darkness.
“Leave, you don’t belong here, you don’t have to be here, you are not the ones who should be condemned”Zakriel slowly reached out and pointed at the empty corner outside the cell as if there was someone there”much less the person who should face him here.”
After what seemed like a long time, Samel reacted like an animal that had just woken from hibernation. He turned around laboriously.
He no longer looked at the Knight of Judgment.
Samel sucked in a sharp breath, as though to force down all the resentment and indignation he could not vent back into his chest. At the side, he tapped his sword hilt gently like he paid no attention to this.
“I’ve told you. The person who lives in the past will never find the answer.”
In the end, under Ricky’s gaze, Samel began to walk towards the path he came from. In his steps were either remorse or relief, no one knew exactly how he felt. He left Zakriel’s cell behind.
Thales stared at his back and frowned tightly.
“What are you waiting for, Your Highness?” Ricky chuckled, and as if calling to a child to go back and eat, he said, “The show is over.”
To his surprise, Thales did not follow. Instead, he raised his eyes, which had grown alert at some point in time, and looked at Ricky.
“So, this is your goal? This secret?”
Thales bent down and picked up the extinguished torch on the floor. He stared at the material, there was still heat lingering on it. He could somewhat make out thin flakes of ash.
Ricky gave a hardly noticeable frown. He watched the prince slowly raise his head. Thales then whispered to Samel who was walking further away under the light, “And then?”
Samel’s footsteps came to a halt. He also noticed Thales’ behavior.
“Then, we will go home.” Ricky looked at Thales coldly. He was not very satisfied with the latter’s uncooperative act. “Unless, you still want to chat with Stake over a glass of wine? Need I remind you that he killed your uncle?”
Thales sighed heavily.
‘So, this is the last step for this group.’ Perhaps it was just as he expected.
There was another exit in the Prison of Bones which would allow them to completely avoid the eyes and ears of the camp. If he went with them, he had nowhere to go except to be under their control.
Thales took a deep breath and whispered to himself, “I’m ready.”
In the next second, the prince smiled brightly and raised his head. “Hey, can we make a deal?”
Thales looked at the extinguished torchno more than a piece of wood in his hand. He scratched his head, seemingly upset. “I mean, look, since you’ve got what you want, and I’m a weak boy”
Ricky shook his head slightly. He continued Thales’ words inan indisputable manner. “You also happen to be what we want.”
Thales’ words came to a halt. He watched Ricky slowly step forward. There was a faint, threatening tone in Ricky’s voice.
“In fact, you are something we want even more than our original goal.”
Thales could not help but raise his eyebrows. He was unable to help but sigh. “But, you know, neither the kingdom nor the Secret Intelligence Department will let you out of the camp easily.”
Samel walked back and watched Thales and Ricky. Thales seemed intent on negotiating with them.
Ricky said coldly, “Indeed, they won’t, but they don’t know how to stop us.”
Thales smiled as though he had no other choice but to do so. He spread his arms. “But What if they do know?”
Under the illumination of the light provided by Samel, Ricky frowned slightly. “What do you mean?”
Thales flashed his white teeth and smiled bashfully.
“I mean, what if the Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Department knew about your operation right from the beginning to the end, from the start to finish?”
Ricky was at first startled, then his expression darkened.
The moment the first syllable left Ricky’s mouth, a problem suddenly arose.