Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
The remaining torch grew weaker while the underground prison grew darker. However, he felt that the underground prison had never been this peaceful and bright.
Although Barney Junior was still in an absent-minded state behind him, Thales knew that he no longer had to worry about the former vanguard’s condition.
His remaining problem was…
Thales shook his head and walked towards the last person while he endured his pain.
It was the long-faced man who had been kneeling on the floor for a long time. He was badly wounded, and there was a shade of despair on his face. He looked as if he had lost his soul.
The Knight of Judgment’s face appeared slowly before his dark field of vision. His left arm, which was seriously injured by Barney, hung stiffly on his shoulder, powerless, like the skin that had been shed by a snake.
“Alright. You’re the only one left now,” Thales said softly.
Even when he finished speaking, the Knight of Judgment still looked like he was immersed in his own world. He did not react to Thales’ words and allowed him to approach slowly.
However, at the moment Thales was ten steps away from him, Zakriel shot up like a leopard that had suddenly awoken. He instinctively drew the chipped axe beside him.
“Your Highness!” Beldin cried out in alarm and subconsciously got up to move forward.
The others registered what was going on. Samel scowled and pressed down on his weapon; Tardin, Bruley and Canon got up nervously and surrounded Zakriel; even Barney Junior snapped out of his daze and lifted his torch. But right then, Thales raised his hand at the people behind him!
“Hold on.” The prince’s voice was raspy and feeble. Everyone subconsciously stopped moving.
In the quiet stillness, Thales observed the long-faced man in front of him silently. Zakriel did not move. He only breathed while he was lost in his daze. He pointed at Thales with the weapon in his hand from afar, as if it was an instinct of his.
The air was still again.
At the back, Quick Rope asked while feeling embarrassed, “Hey, Wy… erm, Thales?”
Beldin snuck a peek at Zakriel who was still dazed yet remained alert due to his instincts, and spoke hesitantly, “Your Highness, it would be best for you—”
Before he could finish his words, Tardin interrupted him nervously from the side, “Do not go any further!”
“Dan-dangerous,” the slightly neurotic Canon said.
The people present reacted in different ways, but all of them looked warily at Zakriel who appeared to have just snapped out of his daydream.
However, Thales smiled. “Thank you, Beldin, and you too, Tardin and Canon… But I will need you to wait for me for a little while.” The teenager forced himself to withstand the discomfort in his body. Thales turned around, revealed a tired smile, and raised his index finger. “…Just a little while.”
He turned around and took a deep breath before he continued to talk towards Zakriel.
As he saw the distance between the two people shorten, Beldin’s expression changed. “Your Highness, for your safety’s sake—”
However, a hand shot out from beside him and pressed down on Beldin who was just about to take action!
At some point of time, Barney Junior had gotten to his feet. He said coldly to the surprised Beldin and Tardin, “He already asked us to wait.”
He looked like he still held a grudge towards Thales. When he spoke, he seemed to intentionally lower his head to avoid looking in the prince’s direction.
Barney Junior’s powerful and rhythmic voice snapped Zakriel out of his trance. The latter’s eyes regained clarity slowly and focused on Thales.
Beldin stared at the vanguard bewilderedly before he looked at Thales. There were a few times when he wanted to say something, but he hesitated. In the end, he did not say or do anything.
He only stood where he was and watched worriedly as the prince got closer to Zakriel step-by-step.
His reaction was similar to the others’.
When Thales was three steps away from Zakriel, the latter panted. He glanced at his former comrades around him, and saw that they longed to immediately rush towards them, but held themselves back.
‘Something has changed,’ he thought.
Zakriel looked around. He saw that Barney, who was used to giving orders, looked unhappy, but did not say a word. Beldin, who was reliable, and sometimes even slightly inflexible, also decided to not do anything and just let things happen on its own accord. Even Samel, who did not like receiving orders, only pursed his lips and did not say a word.
As for the rest of his comrades, be it Tardin or Canon… They were all comrades whom he was once incredibly familiar with…
They stood quietly behind Thales. Other than throwing warning glances at Zakriel, they mostly observed, and let the prince walk to stand right in front of Zakriel while the man remained drenched head-to-toe in blood.
‘These people…’ Zakriel turned around stiffly. His mind was distracted while his thoughts were all jumbled up, but he subconsciously tightened his grip around his weapon.
Zakriel’s tired and gloomy gaze disappeared. It was replaced by puzzlement as he looked at Thales, like he was getting to know the teenager again.
“What have you done to them?” he asked dumbly. The question sounded as if it was directed at the teenager, but also as if it was directed at himself.
Thales took a deep breath and forced himself to smile. “Nothing.” The teenager said slowly, “Only something that you have been meaning to do but haven’t done.”
Zakriel was stunned. He felt dizzy. ‘…have been meaning to do but haven’t done.’ A few seconds later, the heavily wounded Knight of Judgment shook his head.
“Is that so?” He sneered and lowered his gloomy gaze. He seemed to have understood something. The Knight of Judgment let his left arm slide down and dangle at his side. He gritted his teeth as he lifted the weapon in his right hand.
“You know, before I came here, I stayed in Eckstedt as a hostage from Constellation. I was supposed to stay there permanently, but I ran away from Dragon Clouds City.” The teenager’s voice rose.
Zakriel’s axe froze in the air.
‘Dragon Clouds City.’ Zakriel shook a little while dazed. He looked like he was stabbed by something. Faint and confusing memories filled his head again, even though he could no longer bear to have more confusing thoughts attack his mind.
‘Is that so? A Jadestar Royal Family member who was held hostage in Dragon Clouds City, huh?…’ Zakriel clutched the axe in his hand tightly. ‘If that were the case, over the years after the tragedy, the kingdom has already…’
“I met quite a number of people when I was on the road.” Thales’ tone was very peaceful, as if he was narrating about his daily life. “There was a man who moved me deeply.
“He said that after more than ten years of wearing a disguise, when he looked in the mirror, he could no longer recognize himself.”
Zakriel’s axe trembled a little.
Thales looked away from the Crossbow of Time in Quick Rope’s hand and sighed, “He had forgotten why he put on that mask in the beginning. He allowed the mask to hold him captive, occupy him, and control him.” Thales glanced at the man before him with a serious gaze. “Just like a warrior who forgot his mission to defend what he wanted to defend, and ended up becoming a slave for victory.
“Just like a king who neglected his responsibilities when he ruled his country, and succumbed to obtaining empty glory by performing deeds that would be considered meritorious to the public.”
The Knight of Judgment’s body began to tremble slightly. Thales looked straight into Zakriel’s eyes.
He had seen this gaze before, more than once. He saw it in Vine Manor, when the Phantom Wind Follower dragged his handicapped body forward while he struggled in pain; he saw it in Renaissance Palace, when Val Arunde shook his head in misery, and exposed the conspiracy; he saw it in the Hall of Heroes, when Administrator Mirk despondently picked up his late daughter’s body; he saw it in the Land of Barren Rocks, when the dying Raven of Death confessed everything while laughing madly.
They were all dark, filled with despair, and numb. Such emotions were only revealed after a person lost what he or she cherished the most.
As for Zakriel… What could it be that he cherished the most?
When he thought this, Thales’ heart sank, and he let out a soft sigh. “But, Zakriel, when and why did you put on this mask?”
Zakriel froze, and he stood still. There was a complicated look on his face.
The silence lasted a few seconds. After a while, he forced these words out of his mouth, “I am sorry, Your Highness, but we… have to put an end to this.”
Once Zakriel finished speaking, he shook the weapon in his hand gently, as though he had just reaffirmed his resolve.
Thales raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I know. You still want to kill me.” The teenager sounded relaxed as he spoke, but what he said made every Royal Guard behind him nervous again. “And we cannot stop you.”
Zakrield furrowed his eyebrows, but he did not speak. This seemed to be his gift. By keeping silent, he could turn the atmosphere gloomy and still.
However, the prince immediately smiled after he said his words. “I have to admit that, when you were still the heinous traitor who was after my life, I did not have any kind of guilty conscience when I faced you, but now…”
Thales sighed. “The stories that you told just now, about you finding out the truth, about being unhappy with the late king, about plotting the rebellion and framing everyone, and how you were the traitor and culprit over what happened eighteen years ago.” He sneered and shook his head. “At least half of the stories are fake, aren’t they?”
The Knight of Judgment’s cheek twitched. Thales looked straight into his eyes.
“That was a mask you wore for the others.”
Zakriel pursed his lips. His expression was stiff and dark.
“It was what you did to cover up the truth, and what you fabricated to protect the dead and the living. You did these so that the Royal Guards would not have an internal conflict and become divided among themselves. The people who lived would not be tortured, and the deceased would rest in peace. For all this, you were willing to be the purely fictitious sinner and traitor, and bear with the resentment directed at you. You must have thought that it was better for them to resent you instead of letting them resent each other, right?”
The Knight of Judgment closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Barney Junior stared at Zakriel. His gaze was mixed with abhorrence, resentment, confusion, and helplessness. The others sighed. Only Samel shook his head to express his dissatisfaction.
The corner of Thales’ lips curled up, and he said, “When I saw what you did just now, I finally understood that what I saw was the real Zakriel.”
Zakriel’s eyebrows twitched. However, Thales was not done speaking just yet.
“Eighteen years ago, as the watchman who safeguarded the legacy of the Royal Guards, you could not bear with choosing a side, and could only watch as your comrades underwent a fall-out and killed each other. Their blood ended up forming streams on the ground.
“After the tragedy, for the sake of the royal family’s reputation and dignity, you could not reveal the truth, but could also not watch and do nothing as the innocent Royal Guards were sent to prison under false accusations. When you learned about their experiences and the tragedy they had suffered, you could not forgive yourself for not doing or saying anything. You chose to isolate yourself from the world, and buried yourself deep underground as a form of punishment for yourself.”
Thales watched Zakriel sadly. Whenever he finished a sentence, the pain and conflict on the knight’s face deepened, while his chest heaved more intensely.
The complexity and conflict in all the Royal Guards’ eyes also deepened. The emotions in their gazes as they stared at Zakriel were initially chaotic and changed constantly, but as time passed, they grew more difficult to understand, and hesitant.
Thales sighed and said, “So, Lord Zakriel, with or without the mask, you have never forgotten your beliefs.”
Zakriel suddenly opened his eyes.
“Are you done?” His voice quivered as much as his right hand did, which he used to hold the axe. “This won’t help you—”
Thales interrupted him. “I’m almost done. But, before that, before you attack me, I want you and them to know that…”
Thales let out a gentle sigh. He turned around to look at the former Royal Guards who looked perplexed, frustrated, anxious and puzzled.
“Zakriel, you are not a traitor, nor are you a bad person. Instead, you didn’t hesitate to bear the injustice and the bad names you should not have been associated with, all because you wanted to safeguard the reputation of the deceased guards and the royal family. You chose to kept quiet about it and shouldered the misunderstandings and resentment behind the tragedy, because you didn’t want to see your brothers fall out with each other, and harm each other.”
Thales watched him with a faint smile. “You were even willing to sacrifice their trust towards you, their friendship with you, along with their respect and reverence towards you, as long as this can protect and save them, even though these are the things you used to cherish, and are now the only things you have left.”
The underground prison became quiet again. Only the sound of breathing could be heard. They were sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but never steady.
At this moment, all the Royal Guards watched Zakriel with incomprehensible and complicated gazes.
Zakriel stared at Thales fixedly. The red in his eyes was clearly seen under the firelight.
“You will not change my mind.” The Knight of Judgment’s voice was deep and low. There was anguish in his words.
“Of course,” Thales laughed softly and said, “Because regardless of whether it was eighteen years ago or later, from start to end, you are the same noble knight who is willing to sacrifice his reputation, is selfless and fearless, and the role model for all. You have always been the watchman who safeguarded the inheritance of the Royal Guards.”
Thales sighed softly. “But unfortunately, you were dragged into the powerful currents of time, and because of it, you lost your way and cannot wake up.”
‘The powerful currents of time…’ Zakriel trembled more intensely. Horrible memories attacked his mind like surging tides. Zakriel gritted his teeth and forced himself not to look at the expressions of the others, because he was terrified.
But just when Zakriel’s thoughts were still raging endlessly in him…
“Gentlemen…” Thales turned around and glanced at the people around him. He inhaled deeply before he exhaled, as if he was determined to do something. He knew what to do.
Everyone looked at the prince. Thales lowered his eyes and asked softly, “Do you know why Zakriel wants to kill me?”
At that moment, Zakriel’s wandering thoughts were interrupted instantly. ‘What?’ He was completely stupefied.
He was not the only with such an expression. The others were also stunned, including Barney Junior who was still behaving awkwardly; a worried Beldin; Samel, whose face spoke of wariness; and Tardin, Canon and Bruley were filled with all kinds of emotions such as confusion, puzzlement, and skepticism.
Only Quick Rope’s expression changed drastically because he had realized something.
Thales moderated his breathing calmly before he curled up the corners of his lips. “Because he knows who I actually am.”
‘Who I actually am…’ The prince felt at peace and at ease, as if he had just provided a normal answer to a normal question.
The silence in the underground prison lasted for a few seconds.
‘Hold on.’ Zakriel’s expression melted away slowly. He looked at Thales, who still had the same expression as always, then an indescribable look of surprise appeared on Zakriel’s face. ‘He… he wants to…’
“I don’t understand.” Samel narrowed his eyes as he watched from the side. “What does ‘who I actually am’ mean?”
Very soon, while everyone was puzzled, Quick Rope became the first to open his mouth in shock and disbelief. He stretched out his arm subconsciously. “Um… Wy-I mean, Thal…?”
But Quick Rope soon noticed what was going on around him. So, while everyone looked at him with doubtful gazes, he found himself unable to finish Thales’ name. He withdrew his hand in embarrassment, and his voice weakened.
Thales looked calm, and was not in the least bothered by it.
“You…” Zakriel stared at Thales in surprise and bewilderment. He could no longer suppress his reaction. “You can’t… Are you crazy?!”
Samel, Tardin… Many of them did not understand his words. As Zakriel and Thales exchanged words, the rest of them exchanged puzzled looks.
Barney stared at Zakriel’s face and Thales’ back, sensing that something had become different. ‘Something’s amiss. What other secret could the prince have?’
Thales smiled faintly at the Knight of Judgment, and shook his head. “I know you well enough, watchman… but you don’t know me well enough. You don’t know what I have been through since I came to this world.”
Thales raised his right hand and spread it slowly. He looked at the scar in the center of his palm. There was a wound there, left by a dagger, and it had not recovered yet. It was just like the many scars left there before he came to the Prison of Bones.
Zakriel was so shocked that he was speechless. He could only stare at Thales.
The teenager before him appeared calm, relaxed, and even quite joyful.
While he observed Thales, Quick Rope frowned. ‘No.’ He suddenly realized that Thales was not plotting or scheming anything. ‘No, he really wants to…’
Quick Rope felt a wave of incomparable panic surge into his heart.
The rarely-felt sense of relief in him crept its way into Thales’ voice. “Death might upset me, but I no longer fear it. What truly makes me afraid is…”
As Thales spoke, his eyes became dazed. Asda’s proud face and Giza’s crazy expression appeared in his mind.
“‘Thales, this world, they do not hate us… They fear us…
“‘It is not our behavior that they won’t forgive or accept… It is our existence.”‘
And… Taurus’ mysterious shadow.
Thales sighed softly. “What I fear is how I will not be able to shake off the terror, uneasiness and anxiety I will surely feel if I have to harbor this secret. Even my nightmares will contain its shadow, and I will not be able to escape.
“I fear the moment other people discover this secret, I worry about my fate and the unknown, I am nervous about how the world will see me, and I feel anxious all the time about whether everything I am familiar with will leave me.”
Thales looked up, his gaze focusing slowly. “…That moment has arrived today.”
Thales turned around to see Quick Rope looking at him with a dumbfounded expression. The teenager smiled at him before he exhaled deeply. ‘Thank you.’
“It’s actually not as bad as I thought it would be.” As he watched Quick Rope’s stupefied expression, Thales clenched his fists tightly to feel the pain in his hands. “Instead, when I face the moment my secret is revealed, as well as face the consequences… I can finally understand.”
Thales turned around and looked up calmly. “The only thing that bothers me, tortures me, punishes me, and will not release me is not that secret, my impending fate, the unknown which I cannot control, nor anything else… It is me.
“What I need are not chains that I placed on myself.” Thales pressed a fist to his chest, right above the spot that was once burned by a silver coin. “Instead, I need to let go of my past, so that I can be reborn.”
Zakriel was completely stunned.
“Your… Your Highness?” Beldin appeared to have noticed that something was not right. With a worried and confused face, he spoke in a tone as though he was warning Thales, but also as though he was reminding Thales of something.
As he confronted the people’s great confusion, Thales only smiled in a manner like he had been relieved of his burden.
“You are right, gentlemen.” He closed his eyes and tried his best not to see the reactions of the people around him. The prince’s voice echoed in the underground prison, and it was accompanied by Quick Rope’s uncontrollable breathing. Zakriel’s expression had nearly frozen on his face.
“I, Thales Jadestar, am said by the people for generations to be one of the biggest taboos in the world. I am the same as the culprits who brought harm and chaos to the kingdom in the past.”
In the next moment, Thales inhaled deeply in the dead silence before he opened his eyes.
“I am a Mystic.”
With his most peaceful, calmest, and most indifferent tone, the teenager said the words that caused Zakriel, Quick Rope, Barney, and the others to gasp in astonishment.
“I am a calamity.”