Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
In the almost inaudible rumbling of the platform, Thales was stunned for three full seconds.
Within those three seconds, as he stared at Ricky under the firelight and remembered what the man seemed to be implying, past memories of coming face-to-face with Thales’ fellow ‘seniors’ flashed across his mind.
Asda’s grace and composure…
‘”It’s not just me. Every Mystic in the world can use their own methods to easily turn the tables with a flip of their hand, and all all them… can destroy the world in an instant.”
Giza’s bloodcurdling smile…
‘”You are going down a dark path… Mystic energy… is not a gift or blessing… it is a curse and a misfortune…”
Taurus’ elusive silhouette…
‘”Be careful. Even if you feel like you have controlled it… you still cannot let your guard down.”‘
The rising platform trembled slightly and jolted Thales out of his reverie. Astonished, Thales asked anxiously, “So what do you mean? The Mystics did not kill the gods? Is it a lie they concocted? Or have they been deceived as well?”
However, Ricky merely smiled a cold, impassive smile. Zakriel was watching them in a corner, quiet and profound.
Thales was not satisfied.
“Do you mean that the calamities never surpassed the gods, and that the magnitude of the gods’ powers stand supreme against the Mystics’? Are they abnormally powerful?”
Ricky did not speak. He only closed his eyes gently, as though enjoying the anxiety and confusion on Thales’ face in this moment.
Under Zakriel’s ponderous gaze and Thales’ inquiring stare, Ricky’s shoulders trembled vigorously, and he laughed uncontrollably.
Ricky raised his head as he laughed, to look at Thales—who absolutely failed to see what was so funny about this situation.
“Kill? Surpass? Supreme? Powerful? Look at the terms you chose.”
In that instant, Ricky’s smile gradually faded. His stare became incredibly sharp, as though he wanted to use his gaze to stab into Thales’ eyes.
“A mortal’s perception is always limited and narrow,” Ricky said slowly. “Still, they often think that they know everything. Just like you right now, my dear.”
Thales was startled. “I do not understand,” the boy said instinctively.
Ricky turned his head away. “When speaking of two related parties, you often visualize a chessboard, am I right? ”
‘Chessboard?’ Thales was even more confused.
Ricky raised his hands slowly and clenched his fists. His joints and knuckles popped. “Then, the two involved parties will be placed on both sides of the chessboard you visualized, participating in a game that goes by the rules you created. They will fight, compete against each other for victory, and determine who is stronger and more powerful?” He stared at his fists. His voice was filled with mockery and contempt.
Thales frowned. “Are you talking about the gods and the calamities?”
‘And maybe… the demons.’ Thales stole a glance at Ricky.
Ricky snorted. He looked at Thales, and brought his fists close to each other until they touched.
“You are like a foolish, empty-headed tot who only knows how to nod and grin like an idiot. You take two characters from a mythological bardic poem and a historical drama, and discuss who is better. And your standard in deciding who is better is ‘Between A and B, whosoever manages to pick up the giant, filthy, stinky rock that sits in the ditch at the second corner of the street to the left of his front door is stronger.'”
Ricky’s tone of voice was still full of disdain. Thales was dumbfounded for a second before he shook his head furiously like he was trying to clear his loaded mind.
“Wait-wait-wait-wait… can you, can you not use analogies anymore?” Thales said in frustration. “I am already confused. I cannot deal with more analogies.”
The prince had a look of defeat on his face. Meanwhile, Ricky merely lowered his fists and narrowed his eyes. He shook his head and clicked his tongue.
But Zakriel, who had been silent the whole time, chimed in, “Do you mean that while we assume the two parties on the chessboard are competing by the same rules, one of them can in fact ignore the rules we believe were set, cross the board right away, and eliminate its opponent’s pawns?”
Zakriel stared at Ricky intently. Thales was slightly startled as he listened to him. He began to ponder.
‘…ignore the rules we believe were set? He means…’
This time, Ricky retracted his tone of ridicule and looked at Zakriel with a serious expression.
“No, what I mean is…” The devil and the Knight of Judgment locked eyes for a few seconds. At last, he softly said, “Perhaps the two parties in the game never should have been placed on both sides of the board. ”
Thales was puzzled. ‘Should not have been placed on both sides of the board?’
Ricky’s gaze became focused. He gestured to his head. “They aren’t playing the same game of chess. They aren’t even playing the same type of chess. In fact, it is not even chess. It is not even appropriate to assume that they exist simultaneously in your imaginary situation.”
Zakriel’s expression changed slightly. Ricky turned to face Thales again, seemingly relishing the joy of mocking the prince.
“But my dear, moments ago, you presumptuously asked me ‘Who won this game of chess?'”
Thales was dumbstruck. Zakriel wore a solemn expression. Ricky’s demeanour was unchanged. He appeared somewhat pleased.
However, in that very moment, Thales recalled many of his long-neglected memories:
The nerve-wracking confrontation in Sunset Temple…
‘”You are right, I am Liscia Arunde. The Head Ritual Master of Sunset Temple. The Sunset Goddess’ one and only spokesperson in the world.'”
The unusual exchange in Bright Moon Goddess Temple…
‘”If the Bright Moon God truly exists; if it is really the creator of all living things on earth, why would it allow such a thing to happen?”‘
Even the glimmering light on Silver Shadowman’s body in the Black Track below Dragon Clouds City…
‘”The only difference between me and them is that I got lucky after I died. I received blessings and gifts from a mighty existence.”‘
When he thought about his past experience dealing with the ‘gods’, Thales shuddered slightly!
“Mortals often perceive the gods they know with their limited imagination. Those are the gods they expect, fear, loathe, revere, admire, and worship.”
Ricky and Zakriel were both surprised. They turned their gazes to Thales, who appeared to be in a daze and was subconsciously repeating the quotes he heard before.
“‘Mortals always surmised about the gods through their own incompetent thoughts… Because of their short lives, they imagined gods as eternal existences. Because of their weakness, they presumed the Gods to have matchless power. And because they proclaimed themselves as a part of all living things, they imagine the gods to be stronger and taller. The same being, but stronger and greater.'”
Thales inhaled deeply. A grim and solemn expression emerged on his face.
“‘The problem is that these mortal matters such as eternity, power, and life… If gods truly exceeded the mortals’ understanding and have a different viewpoint, then will they truly care about all these things?'”
Under Ricky and Zakriel’s surprised stares, Thales’ eyes dimmed as he gazed ahead. His tone was deep and somber, but his voice was airy.
“‘The true gods may be far beyond our imaginations—a different existence.'”
Thales exhaled, while he contemplated in silence. On the slowly rising platform, Ricky and Zakriel exchanged surprised glances.
“Who said this?” Zakriel asked softly.
“High Priestess Juwle.” Thales did not even turn around to look at them, seemingly preoccupied by his previous emotion. “She is from Bright Moon Goddess Temple in Dragon Clouds City.”
When he heard the name of Dragon Clouds City, Zakriel could not help but frown deeply.
Ricky remained quiet. Then, he sighed softly. “Not bad. That is perhaps the most accurate description of the… indescribable gods I have ever heard.”
‘Indescribable gods…’ Thales frowned. He suddenly suspected that, six years ago on that night full of blood and conspiracies, the things the seemingly neurotic High Priestess Juwle had told him in Bright Moon Goddess Temple might be… very important.
“Your Highness…” Ricky sighed. At one point, he began to address Thales formally again. “You always manage to surprise me.”
Ricky’s expression became solemn. “Bright Moon… When Bright God Church fell, the Church of Holy Sun split; Sunset Temple went into self-isolation, and Sunrise Church succumbed to corruption. As the two major religions engaged in strife and took advantage of their followers in the name of Errol, only the seemingly powerless and aloof Bright Moon…” Ricky let out an emotional sigh. “Even when the Master of Mountains fell, Bright Moon remains high in the sky. The Northlanders do have a knack for this.”
However, in the next second, Ricky retracted the uncharacteristic seriousness in his tone and said, “But was she certain that her wages would not be deducted when she said that?”
This joke brought both Thales and Zakriel back to reality.
Under their contemplative gazes, Ricky pulled out a sack and took out a piece of jerky, feeling pleased with himself.
“Eat this. There’s only one.” Ricky smiled, and tossed the jerky to the weakened Zakriel. “My courtesy to your prince.”
Zakriel was immediately startled. He glanced at Thales. The prince shrugged and smiled a complicated, helpless smile. The knight did not speak. He lowered his head and quickly gobbled up the jerky.
The three of them were quiet for a while. Each one was deep in thought.
“You haven’t answered my question.” Zakriel’s eyes were clear and sharp. He put the last bit of the jerky into his mouth. “What are you up to?”
This time, the Knight of Judgment looked up and glanced at the mercenaries around him. “Aside from that, as a demon from the underground, how did you become the leader of these traitors of the Tower of Eradication? Why would they willingly follow a non-human entity?”
Zakriel narrowed his eyes, studying each member of the Disaster Sword. “…And do you trust these people?”
Ricky, too, looked at each of his subordinates based on the trajectory of the Knight of Judgment’s gaze. Crassus of the Disaster Swords remained silent for a moment.
“Do you know, Knight of Judgment…” Ricky’s gaze was profound. There was a bit of pity and regret in his voice. “Do you know why we are always short on manpower, so much that we even need some help from Shadow Shield for this operation?”
Zakriel did not answer. He merely waited quietly for him to continue.
Under Thales’ gaze, Ricky propped his chin on his hand, heaved a faint sigh in a very humanizing manner. He gestured to his nearby subordinates. “Sarande Klein.”
Thales and Zakriel’s attention shifted as Ricky’s finger moved. They looked at the middle-aged member of the Disaster Sword, whose sword movements were staggeringly fast.
“Born in Reformation Tower, he is the disgraceful result of the Northlanders’ expedition into the wild decades ago. His father is a Northlander aristocrat with a noble title, and his mother is a barbarian captured by the Northlanders during their pillage of the Yamamu tribe in the mountains. Because of this, he will never be accepted by either of his parents’ tribes as one of their own.”
A short distance away, Klein turned his head around vigilantly. When he noticed Ricky, Thales, and Zakriel staring at him, he cast them a questioning look.
Ricky waved at him, implying everything was fine.
“The Northland nobles of Reformation Tower treated him as a pawn to pacify the barbarian tribes and create the illusion of peace. Secretly, they saw him as a dirty, unsightly half-breed. Meanwhile, the elders from the Yamamu tribe used him for their bargains and negotiations with the Northlanders, while perceiving him as the shameful symbol of their defeat, having been conceived from r*pe and loss.”
Ricky’s voice became rather doleful.
“No matter how skillful he was, Klein’s ability was always seen as secondary to his identity. He never knew who he was, because he was neither a Northlander nor a Yamamu, and he will forever be a homeless orphan who wanders between the two communities.”
Thales and Zakriel did not speak but exchanged glances instead. Ricky snorted faintly, and turned to another side.
“Falken Josef. He is a Calunsian from Thornland. He used to serve in the Special Royal Intelligence Force of Alumbia Kingdom.”
Thales recognized the man resting on the stone platform nearby. He was the spy sent by the mercenaries to infiltrate the Prison of Bones beforehand.
“Amid Alumbia’s laughable and pathetic political stifle, like many of his colleagues, he wandered the world, upholding its morals with a muddled head.
“He betrayed his conscience for the mission of his kingdom, even though he did not know whether it was real or not. He blindly followed orders from his superiors; his hands were tainted with blood; he hunted, tortured, interrogated, persecuted group after group of ‘enemies to the kingdom’.
“He believed this would grant him his safety in this world, convincing himself that he was doing this for his family when he held his wife and children in his arms at night.”
Ricky’s expression was complex. He shook his head at Josef, who also turned around to look at him after sensing that he was being watched.
“Then, one day, his father-in-law, too, was labeled an ‘enemy to the kingdom’ and was thrown into jail. And Josef’s superior—for the sake of his own family as well—turned Josef’s wife and children into his leverage for the interrogation. Ever since that day, the excuse he made for all his past actions shattered.”
As if an emotion was triggered, Zakriel sighed softly upon hearing that. Ricky’s emotions seemed to have been stirred. He turned to face Thales with a gloomy gaze.
“Shawn, who sadly died in the fight earlier, was a Nedanese. He came from Liegdern Union.”
Thales recalled the axe-wielding Shawn who fought against Barney Junior and was eventually killed. He was astonished.
“Yes, he used to be involved in the most promising profession of the Nedanese, and that profession was even symbolic to the people; he was a bandit. As a matter of fact, he was rather good at it. He had a long list of accomplishments, until one day, he fell in love with a girl he kidnapped.”
Ricky stared at Thales, dazed as though he was looking at someone else.
“Shawn gave up everything because he wanted to start a family with her. He even had a falling-out with his fellow bandits. It ended with numerous fights and slaughters.”
Ricky sighed softly, his voice revealed a hint of indescribable anguish.
“After countless trials and hardships, everything ended, and bliss and happiness arrived for him. When he finally settled down with his wife and had children, in one tragic night, the wife he kidnapped poisoned the food served to everyone in her family. She poisoned herself, their daughter, and their son, but not Shawn.”
Thales widened his eyes. Ricky continued.
“This was the saddest, most helpless, cruelest, and final vengeance of a frail woman who could not control her own destiny.”
Ricky slowly said, “Since that day, Shawn realized that perhaps his fate was sealed. He does not deserve happiness, only a descent into hell.”
Zakriel pursed his lips and did not speak. Ricky sucked in a deep breath before he gazed into the distance as though he had snapped out of his daze.
“Of course, there is your colleague in the Royal Guards whom you know very well: Colin Samel lost everything after the tragedy eighteen years ago; and the daughter of his old friend, Marina Novork, an aristocrat who fell from grace.”
When he heard Samel’s name, Zakriel’s expression darkened. He blurted out, “I am sorry.”
It was uncertain to whom it was directed to.
Thales stared at the two individuals in the distance, then glanced at Klein and Josef.
‘These are the Disaster Swords?…’
Ricky stared at the knight for a few seconds before he shook his head nonchalantly.
“Everyone who became a scion of the Outer Tower has a story of his or her own.” As Ricky spoke, his eyes turned grim. “Every single one of them is a non-human entity rejected by the world.”
‘A non-human entity rejected by the world…’ In that very second, Thales thought of a sword-wielding, lonesome figure he saw a long time ago.
‘”It’s called the Sin of Hell’s River for a reason.
‘”We should have left this mortal world a long time ago, but we deceived the ferryman in hell’s river time after time, escaping the call of death during imminent perils. Therefore, our existence is the sin of hell’s river because we are proof that it does not rule death conscientiously.”‘
Thales was deep in reverie.
“Do you understand now?” Ricky’s expression became solemn. He raised his head and answered the earlier question from the Knight of Judgment.
“It is not me they follow. What they follow is the undying hatred and fury that springs in them from despair and injustice. They become stronger because of it, yet have nowhere to release their hatred. That hatred can only burn endlessly in their hollow wounds. These people can only be immersed in neverending hate and rage.”
Zakriel’s gaze froze. In that second, Thales sensed that the Ricky before him had become different.
The Power of Eradication in his body began to boil once more. It gave the teenager the feeling that something very dangerous was about to happen.
Scorching. Oppressive. Heavy.
Thales shuddered. The memory of the crazy bloodbath between Disaster Sword and Shadow Shield surfaced in his mind.
They fought with brutality, madness, and ruthlessness.
Zakriel, too, had obviously sensed something. The Knight of Judgment’s body stiffened. His right arm quivered, as if he was suppressing the urge to attack.
But Ricky ignored the strange behaviour from the knight. His knife-like stare cut coldly through the air before him inch by inch. Even his voice was filled with the spine-chilling terror they heard moments ago.
“This anger is beyond the comprehension of the so-called Swordsmen of Eradication who have been rotting away in the Tower of Eradication for years, accustomed to sucking up to aristocrats around the world who reap benefits from opposing superpowers, creating the illusion of peace, and are hypocritical, pretending to be high-and-mighty.”
In the next second, Ricky stared at Zakriel as if he had seen through his soul.
“Join us, Knight of Judgment.” His tone was firm. It carried an air of undefiable authority. “There are too many similarities between us: you are a great warrior, but like the other pitiable living beings, you cannot escape the imprisonment of fate.
“You may not understand our purpose, but you will. We will make you see that it is not impossible to escape your fate.”
Zakriel remained silent. Ricky’s expression was terrifyingly still. He extended his right hand to the Knight of Judgment.
“In this dark world, we found each other in our loneliness, all so that one day we will be able to see a future filled with hope, and be able to rest our souls in the temple.”
Thales quirked an eyebrow. He thought that there was a profound meaning behind Ricky’s words.
However, Zakriel only shifted his posterior a little. He held his injured left arm and turned his head away.
“My apologies, I already swore an oath. This sword of mine will only swing under the orders of the emperor.” The knight’s voice was hollow and rough, but there was a firm, stable quality to it. “I will not brandish it for anyone else.”
The knight’s words were simple and straightforward, and it froze Ricky’s expression. His arm, too, stopped for a moment as he reached out to Zakriel.
‘This sword will only swing under the orders of the emperor.’
When he heard these words, which were translated from the language of the Ancient Empire and contained a unique characteristic, Thales felt his heart sink a little. He remembered how Nalgi and Naer had acted before they passed away.
As he watched Zakriel stubbornly refuse to accept his offer, Ricky frowned. In the end, with disgust and resignation, Ricky shook his head.
“These thrice accursed citizens of the Empire… Orders of the emperor, huh?”
The devil then turned to Thales.
Now that the flames of the battle between the duo had reached Thales, he instinctively moved his posterior and changed his posture. He sat up in a dignified manner.
The teenager raised an eyebrow.
“Urk… Ahem, perhaps you should look for a redhead holding a crossbow. He should be able to help you with publicizing your group agenda, and getting new people to join you—”
But before Thales could finish speaking…
“No, forget it.” Ricky did not care about what he wanted to say. He only turned his gaze away and waved his hand in disappointment. “We can forget about you, for now… It’s not time yet.”
Thales had been looking forward to what Ricky would say, for some odd reason. But now that Ricky said these words, he found himself unable to even crack a joke. He did not even have the time to let the smile on his face fade away.
An indescribably faint sense of awkwardness rose in his heart. ‘Am I that bad?…’
At that moment, the Knight of Judgment said something. “One more thing: Other than maniacs, no one is interested in a cult that focuses on self-hypnosis.”
Ricky was quiet for a while.
“Maniac? Self-hypnosis?” Ricky chuckled. He referred into the composed and profound leader that he always was. “You know, a long, long time ago, and by that, I mean when the two Magic Empresses were still not empresses…”
Ricky leaned against the stone steps, and an unsettling smile appeared on his lips. “…They had another title among the wizards, one that had already been forgotten by all the others now.”
Thales was astonished. ‘The two Magic Empresses’ titles?’ The teenager tensed up. He instinctively became attentive.
Zakriel was also stunned. He shifted his gaze away from Thales and let it return to Ricky. “The Magic Empresses?”
Ricky was not in a hurry to answer. He tilted his head and evaluated the Knight of Judgment with a look of interest.
“Zakriel, tell me, when you and your people bought the cores from the Sovereign State to make the Mystic Guns, did you not find it strange? Why is it that only the empresses possessed this technology? How could they affect the situation of the entire world?
“And eighteen years ago, your colleagues, your kingdom, and your past… When you look back on the things that happened, don’t you think that the world is very unfair?”
In the next second, Ricky’s voice became deep, making him sound like a mysterious fortune-teller. “Don’t you think that fate… is quite merciless?”
Ricky’s string of questions stunned both Thales and Zakriel.
Zakriel scowled. “What are you hinting at?”
Ricky smiled. He looked around him, as if he was wary of something.
“Listen carefully, my dear. Just like the Truth Brothers, before they became the ‘Empresses’, those two Mystics, Blood Spike and Hellen, were known among the wizards as…”
In the next moment, the demon looked towards Zakriel and Thales, and there was a warning look as well as a mocking one in his eyes.
“…the Fate Twins.”
Thales and Zakriel were both speechless.
‘Fate… Twins? Wait, if I draw a conclusion based on what he said earlier… Is he hinting at what I think he’s hinting?’
The teenager was so astonished that his mind was practically not working anymore. Thales watched as Ricky used the most complex and difficult to understand tone to say, “My dear knight, your king is very great, but he did not manage to win against fate.”
Zakriel stared dumbly at the demon. His expression changed swiftly, and he subconsciously shook his head.
“Trust me.” Ricky raised his head, and in the dark firelight, he looked at the four dark walls around him. “The Prison of Bones is not the end of your life. Fate is an even greater prison.”
‘Fate is an even greater prison…’ Thales’ thoughts were thrown into disorder. He could only breathe in his daze.
“And we have the key to unlock this prison.” Ricky dug out the green rod from his bosom. He looked at Thales, and the passion in his eyes caused a chill to crawl into Thales’ heart. “Perhaps… it is the only key.”
For a time, Zakriel and Thales could not say anything.
Ricky smiled. “Now, who is the maniac, and who is the one convincing himself of whatever his mind wants him to believe?”
There was silence, and it lasted a long time. In the end, in the endless cacophony of noises, Zakriel sighed, and lowered his head.
“You… you said your name is Ricky, yes?”
“As of right now, I am Ricky.” Ricky adopted a relaxed posture, put away his expression, which was an exaggerated one he used to arrest another person’s attention, and put on a smile. “So, why don’t you consider my offer again?”
Zakriel raised his head, and clarity returned to his eyes again. He stared at Ricky.
“Suddenly, I have a feeling… that you are not a demon. You resemble a human more.”
During that moment, Ricky was stunned. His loss of composure and Zakriel’s words allowed Thales to suddenly snap out of his daze, and this registered in his head. ‘This person is an abnormality. I can’t… believe his words entirely.’
“Interesting.” Ricky remembered something and snickered. “How would you know what demons look like?”
Zakriel did not immediately speak. He stared at Ricky for a long time.
“Many records state that the demons from hell are cruel, brutal, ruthless, and inhuman.” Zakriel’s voice dropped a few timbers.
Ricky quirked an eyebrow. He stroked his chin as if he was thinking deeply, while there was a myriad of emotions in him.
“Hmm… well, there are indeed demons who are inhuman.”
In the next second, Ricky suddenly leaned forward and placed his hands on the floor. He lowered his line of sight and looked up at Zakriel and Thales. He smiled mysteriously at the two men.
“For example, they could be so inhuman… that you think they have feelings and can be reasoned with.”
Thales shuddered. As he stared at Ricky’s very much human smile and pondered over the hidden meaning behind his words, the teenager felt a strange chill creep down his spine.