Zakriel’s words rang in his ear and bounced off the broken walls, but his voice sounded like a bronze bell ringing in a tower. His voice lingered in the air as his words were replayed:
The Sensory Mystic.
What the Knight of Judgment said was so surprising that it took Thales a little while to recover from his shock and think about the horror behind those words.
‘Sensory… What name of origin is this?’ Thales thought to himself numbly in the completely silent prison.
‘Moreover, she is the queen of Aydi the Second, the late king of Constellation? What’s her relation to the Bloody Year?’
There were too many shocking pieces of information brought to Thales this evening. The teenager did not even have the time to take into account the other people’s reactions. He could only perceive everyone’s emotions from their disorderly and rushed breathing.
Barney Junior was in an absent-minded state; Beldin gripped his weapon tightly; Tardin and Nalgi widened their eyes; Bruley’s grunts and Canon’s whimpers rose continuously into the air; Samel’s gaze was fierce; Quick Rope bit down on his left index finger and tried to make himself look as inconspicuous as possible.
“No… are you saying…?” The Second Logistics Officer Sazel Naer’s trembling breath rose in the prison.
Everyone was staring incredulously at Zakriel, his chest heaving and his emotions unstable.
“Impossible. When she entered the palace, we all met Queen Fiosa and remembered what she was like.” Penal Officer Beldin’s face was pale. He did not seem to have the courage to believe in the memories of his past. “Even when Prince Kessel splashed boiling red tea at her during the wedding dinner, she didn’t…”
The Knight of Judgment snorted coldly. “Really? The question is: Do you remember how she truly looked like, or is that what the Sensory Mystic wanted you to see?”
Beldin’s gaze was stunned for a moment. Zakriel continued questioning him coldly, “Ask yourself: Did you see Queen Fiosa, or the calamity Freuland?”
‘Freuland.’ As he recited this name in his mind, Thales took a deep breath. Confusion flashed in his eyes. ‘Freuland?’
Suddenly, Thales’ memories were triggered.
It was a memory from the distant past, and it surfaced in his mind like a bell toll from that particular period of time.
Thales’ eyes slowly focused. ‘Freuland.’ He heard this name before.
With a look of confusion on his face, Thales stared at the baffled and shocked group as he tried hard to remember the name.
He must have heard it somewhere before, but at that time, he must be doing something where he could not afford to be distracted, so he did not pay attention to that name.
‘Where did I hear that name?’
“The queen of the king i-is a…” Barney Junior’s eyes were lifeless. He mumbled to himself like he was trying to digest the fact.
Tardin’s forced laughter arose. “No, she never did anything abnormal during her time as queen… She didn’t even kill a chicken!” Tardin looked at Zakriel with hope in his eyes. “Maybe you misunderstood or mistook her for someone else…”
However, the Knight of Judgment was obviously unmoved. Zakriel slowly spoke with a gloomy look appearing in his eyes, “I once believed that I mistook her as well. I hoped that I was wrong. I wished it more than anyone else.”
His dreary face was filled with despair and madness. It made everyone’s heart sink.
Just at this moment
The crowd turned their heads and saw Samel caressing the brand on his face. His eyes were closed, his shoulders trembled, and he laughed without fear.
“This is the reason for your betrayal? This is the reason why you made us feel such guilt for so long; made us bear this stigma, and let us suffer in pain for so long?” Samel’s laughter was full of misery. “In the end, it was because the king married a woman of unknown origin?” He smiled and shook his head, but there was no joviality in his cold, dark eyes.
When he heard this, Zakriel’s face became even more dreary. “You don’t understand.” The knight shook his head with great effort.
A sharp piercing sound arose. It came from Barney Junior who had stabbed his sword into the ground.
“Indeed, I don’t understand.” Barney Junior seemed to have received a huge blow to his psyche. He used all his strength to force out his next words which came falteringly from his lips, “Who the king wants to marry, be it a calamity, a dragon, an elf, or even an orc… No matter how ridiculous, how strange, how unreasonable, and how intolerable it is for you…” Barney Junior paused for a while. His cheeks twitched before he spoke firmly,
“They are all His Majesty’s decision! If you are dissatisfied, if you want to question his decisions, then bring your protests to him directly!”
The more he spoke, the angrier he became. “That shouldn’t be an excuse for your participation in the rebellion, and neither should it be an excuse for collaborating with the enemy to commit regicide!”
One of Barney Junior’s words triggered Zakriel’s sensitive and unstable mind. The man grunted in pain and slammed the battle axe in his hand heavily on the ground!
“I did it!”
Zakriel was like a wild beast that was provoked to anger. The veins in his neck bulged, his hair stood on end, and his fierce eyes swept the hall like a blade.
Everyone was shocked by him.
“I tried to advise him directly, to warn him of the threat right next to him, but he always laughed and was oblivious to the danger before him.
“I tried to contact the nobles loyal to the royal family and trusted by the king in hopes that they could influence His Majesty.” The Knight of Judgment enunciated each word clearly, and each word was filled with resentment. “I tried to ask the crown prince, and Lord Hansen of the Secret Intelligence Department for help, but it didn’t work…” Once he said this, Zakriel showed a hurt expression and shook his head as he trembled.
“…It was too late.”
The people looked at each other, not knowing what to do. Among them, Barney Junior and Samel’s eyes were the coldest and most unforgiving.
The Knight of Judgment lowered his head. The tension in his shoulders disappeared just as his tone softened. Helplessness and despair showed on him.
“I didn’t know when it began… but His Majesty started acting like a different person. He was once gentle and tolerant, but suddenly became firm and headstrong. He did not change his mind once he had made his decision”
His unfocused eyes slowly sharpened, and he looked like he wanted to seek approval from the people in front of him.
“You know. You saw it The Imperial Conferences between him and the ministers grew shorter and shorter, and his meetings with his personal advisors grew more frequent. He began to alienate the ministers, ignore criticism, even the ones related to him by blood. He took back the crown prince’s responsibilities, rebuked the second prince who led the army, demoted his brother and sent him far away…”
Thales’ heart was wavering as he listened. He could not help but frown. The knights’ complaints and words of anguish continued,
“The relationship between him and the great vassals became worse. He even publicly reprimanded the Duke of the Northern Territory who always had a good relationship with him, denounced the Duke of Blade Edge Hill who was dissatisfied with him, released royal decrees by force, and even held high noble parliamentary meetings to punish loyal nobles and wrest property from dissident vassals. He believed crafty ministers who bewitched him with tempting words, and listened to the ignorant people who used inflammatory words to throw our country’s politics into even more chaos”
Zakriel hissed out his words, and each phrase was laced with pain.
“He ordered for the increase of taxes and the expansion of the army. He went into debt, and got rid of various officials in court. Every order challenged the patience of every subject in the country, be it those who were loyal to him, or dissatisfied with him.”
As they listened to Zakriel’s words, many of the former Royal Guards’ eyes became melancholic and unfocused.
“Then, the country lived in poverty, the public was filled with rage, the sovereign and his vassals were not united. Rebellions arose, and the King of Eternal Rule’s good name which had lasted for decades was ruined overnight.”
Once he said that, Zakriel’s shoulders quivered. He looked like a fearful child when he spoke again in a quivering voice,
“At that time, I knew the late King Aydi whom we adored, the King of Eternal Rule whom we respected, was no longer the one we knew.”
His audience had different expressions. They ranged from anger, sorrow, hesitation, and dejectedness, but all of them were silent as if Zakriel’s words had struck where it hurt.
‘He was no longer the king we knew.’ Thales listened to these words blankly, and strange feeling rose in his heart. ‘What was King Aydi originally like? Or rather, how should he be like?’
Zakriel’s voice turned deeper. “He was bewitched, forced into obedience, and controlled by the most evil being in the world.”
His voice became dejected, and his eyes were dull. He sounded like a weak traveler drinking his last drop of water as he trudged through the desert, before finally falling down with all his hopes crushed because of a mirage.
As the crowd waited quietly and breathed, Nalgi put his torch down, and Zakriel’s shadow was elongated on the wall.
After a long while, Barney Junior forced out a sentence from his dry throat, “Bewitched? By a queen? By a calamity?… How did you know?
“You judged a queen guilty simply because of a few phrases taken out of context from a pile of yellowing papers, and even delivered the death penalty on the late king?”
Zakriel snapped out of his daze and chuckled. “How did I know? The answer lay in that night.” His gaze drifted as if he was remembering the past.
“…That terrible, rainy night,” the Knight of Judgment forced the sentence out in anger. His words sent chills down everyone’s spine.
‘That rainy night?’
“In the name of wanting to meditate, His Majesty dispersed all his followers, servants, and guards, including the old captain, and Barney Senior who were in control of the Supreme Shield, and Judgment Spear.
“Then, he took his new queen alone to answer that invitation, which I still, to this date, cannot believe had happened.”
The Royal Guards stiffened.
“What invitation?” Nalgi could not help but ask.
Zakriel looked lost, as though he was lost in the past and could not escape from the shadows known as history.
“That night, I clung to the Supreme Sword, and with its strength, I followed them to the sacred Hall of Stars. I hid in the shadows behind the pillars, I did not even dare breathe…” The Knight of Judgment’s pupils slowly shrank. “Finally, I saw them.”
The dungeon was very quiet. Only the waning flames shone on the decrepit old walls in the Magic Tower. It was as quiet as a coffin buried under the earth.
Barney Junior’s expression was still stiff. Samel’s lips were pursed. The others looked at each other in confusion.
Thales held his breath.
“Them?” Nalgi’s voice quiveredhe did not notice. Zakriel did not look at him and only nodded.
“The storm that night was so violent that even the sentry tower was almost overturned.” In the dim dungeon, Zakriel spoke of his astonishing past in an airy voice. “Two mysterious guests appeared one after another without warning on the hall terrace, while the thunder roared, lightning crackled, wind blew, and rain poured.”
‘Mysterious guests… appeared without warning… eighteen years ago in Eternal Star City. No…’ Thales felt his heartbeat accelerate.
Zakriel’s words tumbled out of his mouth as he breathed, and his breaths had become erratichis tone fluctuated.
“They were like gods in legends who descended onto the world, and they were like the devils who woke in an abyss filled with the greatest evil.”
“Who were they?” Thales asked stiffly. Zakriel suddenly lowered his head and shot a cold glance at Thales, it made the prince’s heart skip a beat.
After a few seconds, the dry, hoarse voice of the Knight of Judgment tumbled out of the man’s bloodless lips,
“The man emerged from the rain. He had an elegant posture, composed, but he was dry and clean. The wind and rain could not touch him, and he arrogantly observed Renaissance Palace as like was observing a chess piece that was bound to be eaten sooner or later in the game. ”
Thales’ body tensed up without his notice. Zakriel’s former colleagues stared at him intently in the prison.
“And that woman…” Zakriel shook his head, in his eyes were the fear and wariness that would only appear for a brief moment when he acted abnormally. “I will never, for the rest of my life, forget the sight of the wind and rain hitting her. It was as if her skin had life, and the wind and rain instantly sank into her skin. They were completely absorbed, nothing was left.”
Everyone’s breathing slowed down as though they were afraid of waking up a fierce beast who was deep in slumber.
“One of them referred to the queen respectfully by her true name, and the other did so in contempt. They called her… Freuland.” Zakriel shuddered out of the blue. “Similarly, our queen appeared to be reuniting with her old friends. She called them by their names. The two names that are equally forbidden”
Thales shut his eyes tight.
Barney Junior interrupted the knight’s narration. He was gasping when he said, “Watchman, you are saying… No, you are accusing His Majesty”
But Zakriel’s voice suddenly became louder. He shouted, “I saw it the night rain came down with a vengeance!”
Barney Junior was stunned by his words. Zakriel’s face was illuminated by the fire, but the brand on his forehead was hidden in the darkness, allowing him to show his usual determined and indifferent face.
“That night, King Aydi served as the witness, and used Constellation as his wager.” The Knight of Judgment’s voice seemed like it was infused with power, because with every word he spoke, the people’s blood vessels throbbed loudly.
“His Majesty, the Sensory Mystic, the Air Calamity… and the Blood Calamity.”
The light was dim. Zakriel no longer paid any attention to the others’ expressions. He continued to speak coldly, “The unprecedented alliance between the King of Constellation and three major calamities was formed in such a situation.”
At that moment, Thales’ eyes snapped open; he remembered. Freuland. He had indeed heard this name before.
He heard it six years ago in Dragon Clouds City, when he held that shivering girl in his arms and gritted his teeth in the soon-to-be-destroyed Shield District. At that time, he had been caught between the confrontation of those two terrifying existences.
“‘Did you forget our original intentions when we cooperated with each other, Giza?”‘
At that time, the elegant Air Mystic had said these words. His eyes had been indifferent.
“‘Regardless of whether it was for my plan, Freuland’s ideals, or your persistence, did the three of us not work together so that the Mystics could one day be free of those shackles?”‘
‘That’s right. Freuland.’ Thales was covered in cold sweat. His breaths were quick and short. But the others had no time to take notice of his loss of composure.
“You don’t understand what kind of taboos His Majesty broke.” Zakriel looked up. He spoke coldly to the group who were becoming increasingly nervous. “He tried to touch the power that mortals should not cast their eyes on, and hoped to use it to rule the kingdom we were proud of. He wanted to use it to rule over the kingdom we built from the ruins left behind by the Battle of Eradication.”
The Knight of Judgment had a complicated look in his eyes when he swept his gaze over every listener. In the end, his gaze landed on Thales’ face.
“In the conversation, His Majesty even referred to the three monsters as his three calamity allies.”