‘”Many people had the same ideathat Mystics may coexist with other races in peace, and even help each other.”‘
At this moment, the conversation Thales had a long time ago came to his mind.
…That was in Dragon Clouds City six years ago. Giza had just disappeared thanks to the Blade of Purification. As ash filled the sky, when Thales vowed to find a new future for the Mystics, Asda, as elegant as a scholar, casually said these words, and Thales had no idea whether he said it intentionally or not.
‘”Mystics, humans, even the elves… With numerous attempts and great effort, all have failed.”‘
The words from that pleasant voice were clear in his ears, but the cruel truth before him shook his conviction.
They all failed.
Thales might be staring at Zakriel with a stern gaze, but he was thinking of another person.
‘Asda, just how many things did you hide from me? Eighteen years ago… what on earth did you and Giza do?’
“His Majesty formed an alliance with the calamities?” Tardin asked disbelievingly in the dead silence.
Naer voiced his thoughts, “Air and blood? Oh, I still remember, Blood Bottle Gang, right…”
Their voices broke the silence, and many of the people subsequently spoke in their shock. While the group broke into commotion, Barney Junior stepped forward swiftly and cut them off by saying,
The noisy prison immediately became quiet.
Barney Junior’s expression was still stiff, but Thales could see a variety of emotions surging underneath his calm facade. Barney asked coldly, “Just like this? Three calamity allies?”
The Knight of Judgment moved his gaze back away from Thales’ body while he remained standing in front of the prince. He seemed to be immersed in his own world as he murmured, “Those calamities… did not harbor good intentions. They did not care much about the future of Constellation. On the contrary, they only wanted to achieve their own goals through the kingdom, even if it meant that they will bring us all kinds of misfortune and disasters…
“That was just the beginning.” Zakriel’s dull and dry voice rose and his words sounded like a hammer shattering their fantastical image of Constellation. “It seemed like it happened overnight. The kingdom suffered through continuous, natural disasters; our harvests stopped, our cargo was blocked, our trade routes by sea were locked down, our business and agriculture industries descended into nationwide chaos, many people lost their jobs, and conflicts were frequent. Then, the country suffered multiple rebellions, the situation was so bad that things were out of control…”
When everyone in the hall heard these words, they sank into silence together.
“At that time, when we were busy subjugating rebellions and pacifying the country, the whole world seemed to have received some kind of order at the same time…”
The Knight of Judgment stared blankly into space.
“Our allies and companions fell strangely silent and refused to respond us, as though it was all a coincidence. It’s the same for the Three Kingdoms of the Mystery Ocean, Sacred Tree Court, Hall of King’s Chronicles, and even the Tai Xuan Palace on the other side of the sea. They all avoided responding to Constellation’s call for help.
“Our enemies and opponents were united in an unprecedented fashion; the Camians set up an embargo with Constellation, the Great Desert invaded us, the Kassaians robbed us on sea, Hanbol set up a naval trade blockade, and Eckstedt provoked us from the north. Even the rebels seemed to have endless support. It was as if that agreed to work together and cause trouble for us.”
Zakriel remembered the history of the Bloody Year, and the sadness in his words infected the atmosphere in the hall, making the faces of the Royal Guards become even more unpleasant.
Thales furrowed his brow subconsciously.
“And at that time, for some reason, the materials to form the Mystic Guns we purchased from Mane et Nox were cut off. Even the shipment of Eternal Oil and Crystal Drop Ores could not catch up to our supply demand. It was incredibly difficult for us to provide conventional weapons and military supplies for our armies.”
Zakriel continued to speak, his voice growing tense as though he was slowly suffocating, “We lost not just the war, the king and his vassals were not united. The protests from the nobles came one after another, the relationship between the three temples and Renaissance Palace was really tense, and the shameless Tower of Eradication even criticized His Majesty’s rule.
“When all these things were added together, it turned into the most unfavorable situation for us”pain and grief appeared in Zakriel’s eyes”and what you saw was the number of our brothers in the guards being reduced. For duty and honor, they left their wives and children to follow the Jadestars. They went onto the battlefield in batches, fully-equipped. They would reply through letters once every half-month to inform their families that they were well and alive, or never be heard from ever again.”
At that moment, no one from the Royal Guards including Samel spoke, but they each had their own reactions. Some bowed their heads deeply, some avoided eye contact with each other in an unnatural fashion, and Canon even cried softly.
“But do you think that all of this was really just a coincidence?” Zakriel watched the fire of the torch in Nalgi’s hand with an absent-minded look in his eyes. He delved deeper into his memories, and a ferocious tone was added into his words.
“I know… I know the reason why we became everyone’s target. No matter what His Majesty’s original intentions were, working with the calamities was the beginning of our disaster. It made Constellation fall into an unprecedented dilemma, and we turned the whole world into our enemy.”
“F*ck!” Nalgi slapped his thigh and cursed. No one knew whether he was cursing King Aydi or Zakriel.
‘The whole world is our enemy.’ Thales’s breathing became erratic, but he did not notice it.
“Why?” When he heard all this, Barney Junior interrupted Zakriel coldly, “If you think this was the root and the reason… why didn’t you tell us at the time? Why didn’t you ask the old captain for help, or even my father? They must have had a way! Why did you make a decision without any authorization from your superiors?”
Zakriel’s gaze moved. The knight slowly swept his gaze past the Royal Guards present. Thales noticed that many people subconsciously avoided his eyes, which were as sharp as blades.
A few seconds later, Zakriel let out a seemingly mocking sneer, and he lowered his head.
“You don’t understand. When I finally made my decision to do something, it was already too late.” He shuddered slightly. “The situation was bad, and it went from bad to worse. We even constantly heard news about the passing of the princes’ personal guards, who were the most elite of us all.
“In less than a year, the momentum of the rebels’ attacks grew stronger, and they conquered our cities and lands. The morale of our soldiers was low and we lost ground. The war in Western Desert and the southwest spread towards our country, and even drew close to our borders. The citizens’ hearts were uneasy, and they were in a constant state of anxiety…”
Each time Zakriel said one word, the brows of the guards would draw even closer together.
“Then, even Eckstedt showed its fangs. That terrifying Great Dragon who just subjugated the Golden Passage and the Camians joined the movement to take advantage of our situation. They spared no expense and deployed all their forces. They had a hundred thousand elites, and their march was unstoppable. Their steeds rode forth with iron hooves, and they charged in with the force of roaring waves.
“I think that was the best final blow our enemies had prepared for our kingdom. It was supposed to be the final chapter of the historical poem that depicted our country’s downfall.”
Thales could not help but think of Nuven the Seventh, the king whose power and influence had not reduced in the slightest even though he was old. The cunning, fierce, and powerful lion.
He also remembered what the Raven of Death had said about the purpose of Eckstedt marching south. When he thought of this, Thales could not help but wonder: Did King Nuven really deploy his troops so decisively purely for political purposes?
“We were already overwhelmed, had exhausted all our resources, and couldn’t even form a decent army.” Zakriel sounded even more distressed. “Just like that, Constellation, which had borne the glory of the Empire and had existed for seven hundred years, was on the brink of destruction. It was only one step away from falling into the abyss, and facing complete annihilation.
“But even so, even if the calamities led the kingdom to Hell’s River step by step, His Majesty continued to act wilful and stubborn. You wouldn’t be able to imagine just how obstinate he was…”
When he said this, the Knight of Judgment suddenly looked up. His eyes were filled with resentment as he looked in front. “It’s hard to imagine just how much he trusted that woman… that monster who slept beside him… And it all originated from that night.”
Zakriel slowly stopped speaking. Barney Junior closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“That’s why you betrayed the country and rebelled? That’s why you went to His Majesty’s enemies?” The vanguard seemed to be trying with all his might to suppress his own shock and shift his focus back to the present.
Zakriel was silent for a long time. He seemed to be hesitating.
Finally, the Knight of Judgment opened his mouth and said faintly, “His Majesty was entranced. He couldn’t see that the calamities were the root of everything… He had to be awakened.”
The Knight of Judgment’s gaze gradually turned clear. “As long as he stayed away from the monsters with their dubious motives, cast aside their sinister plots, stopped putting his hopes on a taboo, and return to ruling the country with proper means…” Zakriel was like a traveler who saw hope at the final moment of his struggle in the abyss. “…the strange alliance of our enemies formed by them taking advantage of our misfortune will lose its foundation, and collapse on its own. In fact, the two supreme and forbidden existences spoken in the legends would also shift their gazes away.
“Our supply of Mystic Guns and Eternal Oil would be restored; we could re-establish our relationship with the allies; the hostility against us born not out of personal interests would be eliminated; the behind-the-scenes support for the rebels would stop; our troubling situation of being surrounded by enemies would be alleviated; the hearts of our divided citizens would be unified; and the critical situation on the frontlines would improve. The only thing we needed to worry about it would only be our old rivals.
“Constellation would then survive this catastrophe.” Zakriel’s expression became more and more agitated, but all of a sudden, his expression turned dejected. “But before that, someone had to stand up and shoulder the responsibility to turn the tide, even if it meant carrying out the most unforgivable betrayal, and bearing the most unforgivable disgrace to his own name.” His eyes radiated deep pain. He stared at his own fists, spellbound. “Someone had to save us before His Majesty made the world our enemy, and before he plunges the whole kingdom into the abyss.
“There must be someone who could completely end this hopeless and unnecessary confrontation.”
No one spoke. Even Samel, who had a mocking look on his face, stayed quiet. Barney Junior, who stood closest to Zakrielright in front of himclosed his eyes. He seemed to be deep in contemplation.
Nalgi sighed deeply next to Thales. He was not the only one; the others also had worried faces, and they seemed troubled.
The prince’s heart was in turmoil. He remembered how Yodel had given him faltering words of encouragement in Mind is Hall when he revealed that he knew Thales was a Mystic.
‘”I have seen many things. A little more than what you imagine I have also met the calamities before, more than once… your family Ever since the day they were born, they were doomed to be entangled with those calamities.”‘
‘More than once. That must mean he didn’t just meet Asda before. Perhaps it also means that he had met Freuland, and even Giza before?’
When Thales remembered Yodel, he recalled the Secret Intelligence Department and the Black Prophet. What role did they play in that catastrophe?
Thales remembered Duke Arunde’s hysterical questions and accusations towards King Kessel in Renaissance Palace six years ago, after his plot had failed.
“‘You are just like your damned father. Both of you knew where your choices would lead, but you never gave a damn! If it were not for all of you bringing back that monster”‘
They were most probably talking about the new queen, Freuland.
He had seen the way Kessel made his decisions. The sight of him coldly sending Thales away as an envoy to Dragon Clouds City remained vivid in his mind, as if it had only happened yesterday.
Was his grandfather, Aydi the Second, the same?
Thales also remembered Archduke Poffret’s intentional evaluation of Aydi the Second when he lost in the duel in Heroic Spirit Palace’s Hall of Heroes.
‘”Sooner or later, a madman like Constellation’s Aydi the Second will appear, and drag the entire kingdom down to hell!”‘
Thales stared at Zakriel with a stupefied expression. As the trusted watchman in the Royal Guards, he should have been the most loyal guardian of Constellation.
“No.” Inside the prison, a voice that lacked any form of emotion rose quietly. His words traveled into the people’s ears. “Even if it must be someone… it shouldn’t be you. It shouldn’t have been done by you, Immanuel Zakriel.”
Thales turned his head in surprise and saw Barney Junior slowly raise his head. A cold, sharp glare shone through his eyes as he stared at the Knight of Judgment. Zakriel was silent.
“You are not His Majesty, not Crown Prince Midier, not Prince Horace, not the prime minister, not an administrative officer, much less His Majesty’s Military Advisor, nor his Foreign Affairs Advisor.”
Barney Junior seemed to have overcome the shock brought on by his colleague’s betrayal, and the truth surrounding the Bloody Year. He seemed to have figured out what was going on.
At this moment, Barney’s voice was not loud, but his words were powerful and firm.
“You are not even the leader of the Royal Guards, but only His Majesty’s subordinate, the second son of Viscount Zakriel!” Barney Junior took a deep breath and asked through gritted teeth, “What right do you have which allowed you to arrogantly and confidently claim that you knew the future of our country?”
Zakriel did not speak, but there was deep pain in his eyes. The vanguard’s voice grew louder and firmer. “What qualifications do you have that allowed you to proclaim yourself as the savior of the world, even though you stood in the filthy depths of darkness!”
The guards were stunned. They cast each other a few glances. Their scattered gazes gradually focused on one target and directed on the Knight of Judgment at the same time.
Zakriel was frowning with conflict on his face. Faced with Zakriel acting in this manner, Barney Junior snorted coldly.
“Do you remember the Praetorian Oath?”
The Knight of Judgment was slightly taken aback. ‘The Praetorian Oath.’
However, before he reacted to it, Barney Junior loudly yelled, “I swear that this life will be dedicated to the throne, for the king, and no other master. I swear that this sword will only be brandished for the Emperor, be broken for the Emperor, and be used for no other purpose. I swear that this body will be buried under the throne, or buried as I serve the king; I will have no other end.”
He only said three sentences, but Barney Junior’s voice was very loud and clear. His words echoed in the air between the four walls, sweeping away all the hate that had previously lingered in the air.
He seemed to turn back into the vanguard who was solemn, calm, level-headed, and awe-inspiring.
Zakriel listened to these familiar statements and slowly became absent-minded.
“They did it. The old captain, Tony, and even my father,” said Barney Junior, who forced his anguish down to keep it from seeping into his words. He kept his voice steady. “And all our brothers who died inside and outside Renaissance Palace, and also those who sacrificed themselves at the frontlines.
“No matter where His Majesty wished to go, they all swore to follow him. They didn’t ask why, and they didn’t doubt him.”
Zakriel’s body started to tremble. ‘Old Captain Cullen, Chief Protector Tony, Deputy Guard Captain, Quill Barney Senior…’
In Thales’ eyes, Zakriel’s expression was not the only one that changed, all the guards’ expressions changed and they varied from each other. Samel lowered his head. He sank into deep listlessness. There was also conflict on his face. Canon leaned against the wall and covered his face as he trembled. The large Bruley pushed his fist against his chest tightly. Nalgi stared at his torch with a blank expression, as if there was a good show in it. Tardin, Beldin, and Naer were all dazed.
“I believe that even if they were headed to Hell’s River with His Majesty”Barney Junior’s voice also began to tremble”they would also do their best to grab a boat for His Majesty to cross the river… What about you?”
The Knight of Judgment’s chest heaved. However, Barney Junior’s words were like a sharp sword bitterly stabbing him in his vitals.
“Zakriel, all that you’ve said won’t pardon you from your sins. Those are just murmurs in your sleep that you used selfishly to convince yourself that you’re doing it for the good of the country.” Barney Junior finished speaking. He glared at Zakriel with a gaze full of disgust and contempt.
His words are obviously very powerful, because it allowed the Royal Guards to figure something out. They cast aside their hesitation and reluctance to attack their former brother, and the same disgust and contempt appeared in their eyes.
This time, Zakriel remained silent for a long time. Then, he struggled to speak.
“I didn’t want to shirk my responsibilities, and I don’t want to ask for forgiveness. You said you want the answer; that is my answer,” the Knight of Judgment whispered. “I will bear all the blame myself, for everything which happened that year…”
Barney Junior stared at him for a long, long time. Then, his expression returned to normal. He seemed to realize something. With a broken smile, he shook his head.
“No. You can’t bear anything.”