Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
It was a fairly small desert.
It was situated between several sand dunes of varying sizes. It slept deeply under the gloomy sky, and everything in it was dead silent.
Then, the sand on the ground began to tremble slightly.
There was a dull thud, and an uneven platform suddenly rose in the middle of the desert.
More dull thuds followed. Countless grains of sand gradually fell from the rising platform and into the dark hole beneath it. The falling sand hissed.
The platform was about several meters wide. It kept rising and revealed its black-gray surface.
More than ten seconds later, a figure covered in dust and sand emerged from the dark, mysterious hole with a torch in hand. The figure patted the sand off himself and glanced around.
He then turned around, extended his arm to grab the second person, and pulled them of the hole. He then pulled out the third man, the fourth… more and more people crawled out of the hole.
There was more than ten of them.
At last, a scrawny figure emerged and was pulled out by someone. He stepped on the sandy ground.
Thales, with his face covered in dirt, took off his face scarf, coughed out some dust and sand painfully, and patted the sand off his whole body.
The chilly, predawn wind and the odor of sand attacked his senses simultaneously. They gave him a chill. It was a vaguely familiar feeling.
Thales reached behind his waist instinctively, only to recall that his dagger was confiscated by Ricky.
…Behind the teenager, Tardin, Bruley, and Canon were brought out to the desert with their hands tied.
Zakriel, Barney, and Beldin’s situations were worse. They were blindfolded and personally watched over by Klein and Josef.
Quick Rope appeared to be treated as an unimportant laborer. He carried the equipment collected by the mercenaries from the battlefield, darting a pleading glance at Thales every now and then.
Stake was blindfolded as well. He was shoved out of the hole under the watch of two mercenaries.
Everyone climbed to the surface one after the other.
“This is… this is not the Prison of Bones?” Thales steeled his heart and ignored Quick Rope’s miserable stare behind as he stepped on the incredibly pleasant sand. He cleaned the mess on himself while studying his surroundings under the dim daylight. “This is not even… Blade Fangs Camp.” The endless stretch of yellow sand terrified him.
Ricky turned his head around under the glowing sky. “What? Did you think we would go back?”
Ricky tossed away the torch in his hand, shook his head with a sarcastic expression, and said, “The entrance to the Prison of Bones has probably been surrounded by the Secret Intelligence Department long ago.”
Thales sighed internally. The prince wrapped his arms around his torso and rubbed it as the cold wind blew at him. He looked around, confused. “Where are we?”
“Not far from Blade Fangs Camp.” Ricky raised his head under the gray sky and gazed at a familiar row of fortresses in the distance.
“We’re just near enough to see it.”
Thales squinted his eyes and observed Blade Fangs Camp, which seemed so close to them. He felt disheartened.
In the desert, “just enough to see something” equated to “a whole day’s journey on foot”.
‘So, what are they up to next?’
“What are you waiting for?” Thales asked, rubbing his palms.
This time, Ricky merely darted him a cold look. “An opportunity.”
‘Opportunity?’ Thales frowned.
In the howling wind, Ricky looked up at the sky, turned around, and ordered, “Everyone, do a final check. We’re leaving.”
Ricky walked past Thales, who was thinking deeply, and headed towards Samel, who was standing in a remote corner.
He peered at the Royal Guards in the distance, all bound tightly, and lowered his voice to ask Samel, “How was it?”
Samel moved away from the group, cast a quick look at Zakriel, and shook his head. “They refuse to join us.”
Ricky heaved a sigh with a frown. “Barney?”
Samel gave a light snort, seemingly displeased. “Especially Barney. That fellow is as stubborn as a rock.”
Ricky stared at the blindfolded Barney and clicked his tongue softly. “He just happens to be the only person who has mastered the secret of Northland Military Sword Style.”
Samel’s eyes lit up. “Then, is he…?”
Ricky shook his head in disappointment. “The Thawing of Glaciers.”
The two of them fell into silence for a while.
Ricky glanced at his subordinates who were making their final preparations and performing their last inventory check behind him. He gestured at Zakriel with his chin.
“I have been trying to persuade their superior. If he agrees…”
But Samel shook his head firmly. “Not Zakriel.” The firmness of Samel’s tone surprised Ricky. “Zakriel is not the key.” Samel looked at the scrawny, somewhat short figure behind him with a complicated expression. “They will only devote themselves to him.”
Ricky looked in the direction of Samel’s gaze and saw the worn, weary teenager with a bruise on his chin. That teenager was currently staring at the sand under his feet and seemingly mumbling to himself.
“Him?” Ricky was momentarily startled. His eyes lingered on Thales for a few seconds. “You told me that you could instigate a fight between them.” Ricky turned his head around. His expression became stern. “What happened after that? The child showed up, and all of you bent your knees?”
‘What happened after that?’
Samel was quiet for a moment. He remembered Nalgi and Naer, who were now in eternal slumber, and he also remembered the smile on the teenager’s face.
‘”I rest now by the Emperor’s side…”‘
“Nothing.” Samel raised his head, shook off the memory, and tried not to look at Thales. “He is just… very persuasive.”
Sensing the disengagement in his tone, Ricky raised an eyebrow. “Huh…”
‘Very persuasive, eh?’ He gave Samel a meaningful gaze.
“I am curious about one thing, Samel.” Ricky’s words made Samel nervous. Crassus narrowed his eyes. “Before we arrived, did you find out why the Knight of Judgment wanted to kill the child?”
Samel’s breath stopped for a second. ‘Why?’ He was silent for a few seconds.
Ricky slowly drew closer to him. “Is there anything you have not told me? Perhaps it’s… about the royal family?”
As he watched Samel’s expression, Ricky started to chuckle.
“Alright, I know that perhaps you still can’t forget the oath you made years ago. I can fully understand—”
However, Samel took a deep breath and interrupted him. “Zakriel did it because he really went insane.”
Samel stared at Ricky with a serious expression.
‘Really went insane?’ Ricky frowned with a doubtful look.
Samel lowered his head stiffly. “You saw it, too. Moments ago, Zakriel was still in a killing spree. Moments later, he went back to help them. I think he might have really gone crazy.”
This time, Ricky stared at Samel for a very long time under the dark but gradually brightening sky. But Samel did not look up.
“Oh, he’s gone nuts, huh?” Ricky’s eyes lingered on him. His tone of voice became strange. “No wonder it’s so difficult… to communicate with him.”
He was still studying Samel’s expression.
Samel coughed, and said suddenly, “Listen, if you want the secret behind Barney’s swordsmanship, sure. If we can take that child away—”
Right at that instant…
“Hey, Ricky! Uncle Ricky? Ricky dum-dum?”
Ricky and Samel turned their heads around, and to their astonishment, saw Prince Thales raise his hand in the crowd to wave at them.
“Hey, can we talk?”
Thales’ dramatic wave and shouts drew the others’ attention. Marina, who was behind him, even placed her hand on the sword hilt at her waist.
“You say… take him away?” Ricky glanced at Samel, sighed, and walked towards Thales. “I’d love to.”
Ricky came in front of Thales, and his expression returned to the composed and slightly amused look he always wore. “Your Highness, please do not tell me you are looking for a quiet spot to pee, because you could have done it right here. We would not mind.”
Unexpectedly, Thales grinned toothily.
“I have a question about the Air Calamity. He went to the Tower of Eradication with you, yes?”
The Air Calamity.
Once he said that name, the mercenaries who were occupied with their respective tasks fell into silence. Many people turned to look at them.
Ricky’s expression changed. He turned his head around and said to Samel with a grim look on his face, “Keep an eye on them.”
After that, Ricky wrapped an arm around Thales’ shoulders in an incredibly rough motion and dragged him to a quieter spot away from the others.
“Ah, ouch, be gentler… I’m still young, you can’t… Alright, I won’t struggle anymore. Don’t be so rough…”
As Thales protested and struggled, Ricky flung him away. “Give me a reason not to knock you out,” Ricky said coldly.
But Thales merely patted the dust and sand off himself, panted, and shrugged.
“The Dragon Breaker or whatever. That was what the Air Calamity wanted, am I right?” Thales said as he smiled. “The way you behaved in the prison made me feel that…. you were not so keen on that.”
There was a small, curious change in Ricky’s facial expression.
“What you wanted was Black Sword, who had the Sin of Hell’s River.” Thales’ tone of voice became serious. “Yes, I know, that weapon was brought back by Black Sword.”
Ricky’s eyes widened. He stared at Thales for three full seconds.
“My dear, I just realized that you were cuter when you listened quietly.” Ricky’s voice was as chilly as the desert night.
Thales flashed him a helpless, toothy grin. The teenager turned his head around to look at the group and scratched his head.
“It took some time to recall the names you mentioned, but…”
Ricky narrowed his eyes.
Thales turned around, drew in a deep breath, and said solemnly, “The Iron Blood King was a king in the Northland who died heroically when he fought against the ancient orcs before the era of multiple kings. There was a scene in the drama about the Age of the Empire that describes the Black Knight’s trial after committing regicide. Shawlon Tannon was a name in the Tannon Family of Northland. They were stripped of their territory, Prestige Orchid Region, as a punishment for conspiring in regicide. Their name was also removed from the ten archduke families of Eckstedt.
With each sentence from Thales, Ricky’s expression darkened a little.
“As for Hill Crassus, he was the man who betrayed the Tower of Eradication and founded the Disaster Swords more than a hundred years ago.” Thales finished his last sentence.
Ricky watched him, and gave a light snort. ‘This child… Perhaps Samel was right.’
With that thought in mind, Ricky said, “Correction, we are not called Disaster—”
Thales cut him off again.
“According to you, all of them activated the Sin of Hell’s River, am I right?”
Ricky arched an eyebrow.
“You used to say that the Power of Eradication is the warrior themselves.” Thales breathed in and out deeply multiple times.
“But everyone who had the Sin of Hell’s River seemed to meet a tragic end… including Black Sword.”
This time, Ricky gazed at him attentively, as if he had found something surprising in Thales.
Thales spoke to test waters. “I had some friends who were trained in the Tower of Eradication. They told me that the biggest difference between the Powers of Eradication of the Disaster Swords, and those of their own, is that you surrender to the worst aspects of your powers. Madness, savagery, and anguish. Even your opponents could feel them.
“Am I thinking too much?” Thales watched Ricky’s facial expression closely. “Or should I actually give up on the Sin of Hell’s River?”
‘Madness, savagery, and anguish.’
It was uncertain whether mentioning the Tower of Eradication or the Disaster Swords had gotten on his nerves, but Ricky’s expression turned darker.
Ricky remained silent for a while before he spoke at last. “Your friends must have an extraordinary status. You must know that we are the secret scar the Tower of Eradication is most unwilling to reveal.
“Also, to correct you, we are not called Disaster Swords.”
Thales could tell that he was changing the subject. He could not help but sigh. “I have seen how you all fought. You cannot deny that you fight like beasts.”
Ricky clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Then you should know that our powers are stronger than the Swordsmen of Eradication, and that we have fewer limitations placed on us.”
However, Thales did not buy his explanation. “What you taught me today, and what you said, hoping that I would one day reach the ‘True Class’ or something like that, will that end up turning me into a beast like you, too?”
Ricky gave a frustrated snort. He was just about to answer before he suddenly thought of something.
“This is odd.” Ricky quirked his eyebrows. “Why are you suddenly so talkative?”
Thales froze a little. He snuck a glance behind him, as if he was afraid of being seen, before he lifted the item in his right hand sheepishly. “Because… of this?”
Then, Ricky saw the item in Thales’ right hand clearly.
It was a dagger. The light reflecting off its blade was cold. It looked exactly like the one he had confiscated earlier…
Ricky’s expression changed drastically! He instinctively lowered his head and touched his bosom.
“When did you steal—”
But Ricky did not manage to finish speaking.
In the next second, a gray sword Thales was incredibly familiar with shot out from thin air, as if it was a warship charging through the waves. It stabbed Ricky’s left temple and plunged straight into his head!
The gray blade was drawn out of the head, bringing with it an endless stream of blood! The sand floor was sprayed red with blood.
Thales clenched his teeth and ran a few meters to the side. Before he could greet the dark purple mask that appeared again, he heard a commotion from the mercenaries behind him. These mercenaries who had been paying attention to what was happening on their side cried out in surprise.
Josef gnashed his teeth in anger and hate, then roared before he drew his sword. With a few mercenaries, they rushed at the black-robed figure who had suddenly appeared!
“F*ck! It’s him again!”
Klein’s extreme anger made the swordsman laugh. He brought a few people to surround them as well.
“How many times does this make…?”
But in the next moment, Klein noticed what was wrong.
A heavy thud rang out. Klein felt pain at the back of his head. His vision swam, and he fell.
The three mercenaries by his side turned their heads around instinctively and saw that the ruffled prisoner who had his left arm fixed to a plank had already forced his way into their group!
Klein lay on the ground, shivering. He turned his head around. In his despair, he saw that Zakriel had broken free of his restraints at some point and regained his freedom. Swiftly and agilely, the man put down three men… Or rather, he only put down one man, because the other two crashed into each other for some strange reason, and fell unconscious, allowing Zakriel to move past them.
Zakriel headed towards Ricky and Thales as he limped, leaving behind an airy sentence that drifted in the air.
“The fourth time.”
Klein sucked in a painful breath. ‘No… When did they break free of their binds?’
Not too far in the distance was Bruley, who had also broken free of his restraints and sent a man flying. Barney Junior rammed his head against the mercenary standing guard over him. Tardin snatched an axe and threw it at Beldin. Canon threw a throwing knife he obtained from somewhere…
The mercenaries’ formation was immediately thrown into chaos!
Josef led the charge, but right then, he turned his head around in astonishment. At some point, the prisoners had all broken free of their restraints, and while the mercenaries were shocked by Ricky’s fall, they quickly broke through the heavy encirclement to reunite with Thales!
*Whoosh!* A swift sound arose!
Josef instinctively lowered his head, but noticed that an arrow had plunged itself into the sand beside his feet.
“F*ck, why can’t I hit…? You’re a counterfeit, right?”
Right across from him was Quick Rope, who tapped the Crossbow of Time in his hand in exasperation. However, once he noticed three people surrounding him, Quick Rope was scared so badly that he felt his soul leave his body. He flailed his arms as he charged madly towards Thales.
Samel yelled amid the crowd, reorganizing his disorderly team and formation. “Don’t panic! They’re at the limits of their strength! We have an advantage in numbers!”
Thales breathed nervously during the short few seconds of chaos and commotion. He turned his head around and saw Josef throw something at Barney and the others who were running towards him.
Before the prince had time to voice his thoughts, a rustling sound that made chills appear in his heart arose. It came from nearby!
A gust of cold wind blew towards him and goosebumps broke out on Thales’ skin. He turned his head around to look.
‘As expected. That’s the demon’s panting.’
“You’re… asking for your own death.”
Ricky’s face was as pale as a corpse when he crawled up from the puddle of his blood. He gnashed his teeth as he glared, then stretched out his arm to draw Everlasting Truth from his waist.
But before he finished speaking, Zakriel’s expression became stern. The man, who was the first to rush at him, bent his body, and suddenly leaned forward while stretching out his arm.
In the next second, Thales widened his eyes and let his jaw fall slack.
To his shock, he saw the heroic and imposing Knight of Judgment throw… a handful of sand at Ricky who had just resurrected from the dead.
Perhaps Ricky did not expect the reputable Knight of Judgment to play such dirty tricks either, hence, right when Ricky drew his sword, he was caught off guard when he had sand thrown right in his face.
“Damn it!” Ricky cried in pain. He covered his dirt-filled eyes with his left hand. He thrust forward instinctively with his right hand, but Zakriel tumbled on the ground agilely and avoided it.
“Yes! That’s right!”
In the chaos, Quick Rope scrambled up from the ground, clenched his teeth, and swung his fists. He shouted loudly, “Give that s*cker another one!”
Quick Rope arrived next to Thales, along with Canon, who was tasked to escort him. When Canon heard it, he frowned and looked at Quick Rope. Quick Rope’s voice instantly became much fainter. He looked at Canon in embarrassment.
“I, I… did it for the sake of the at-atmosphere…”
“Don’t worry about Ricky, he will recover in no time.” Samel clenched his teeth, trying to restore order to his group and take control of the situation. “First, we surround them!”
In the next second, Thales saw Barney Junior whip out the thing he received from Yodel earlier on. Realization dawned on him.
“You thought you can kill me that way?”
Ricky was rubbing away the sand in his eyes in agony while swinging his weapon around. The sound of the wind by his ears guided his swings.
Soon enough, he heard some metallic clinking.
With his eyes shut, Ricky endured the pain in them as he felt a huge force charge towards him. It pressed down on him from all directions.
The force was so strong that it caused him to jolt!
Everlasting Truth dropped on the sandy ground with a light thud.
As the mercenaries cried in surprise, Ricky opened his eyes laboriously and saw the situation before him.
There was a chain.
At a certain point of time, a vicious, metal chain with countless hooks was coiled around him four times from head to toe! He was bound tight!
His left hand was tied to his left cheek, while his right hand was pressed against his torso. He fell on his knees.
Barney and Beldin clutched one end of the chain with solemn looks on their faces, while Bruley and Tardin held the other end of the chain. The four men pulled the chain from both sides, stretching it, completely restricting Ricky’s movements.
“Well, we know we can’t kill you…” Zakriel panted. His arms dangled from the sides of his torso. He came before Ricky, who was trembling nonstop but was powerless to move.
“…so we’ll simply trap you.”
The Knight of Judgment ignored the odd gazes from his subordinates and Thales, then wiped off the remaining sand from his right hand with a casual expression. He picked up Everlasting Truth, which was on the ground in front of Ricky, and turned towards the direction of the mercenaries.
“Good sword, by the way.”
Zakriel shook his head and clicked his tongue.
Thales exhaled and held on to Quick Rope as the latter stumbled towards him. He recognized the chain on Ricky—it was the one Stake used to bind Yodel.
Ricky, who was bound, let out a furious roar.
However, the more he struggled, the deeper the hooks on the chain sank into him, making it harder to break free, just like what happened to Yodel earlier.
Thales panted, gave Yodel a thumbs-up, and smiled. ‘Great job.’
From the time Yodel resurfaced to when Ricky got trapped, no more than a dozen seconds had passed, but it felt like a lifetime.
Yodel held his Supreme Sword in an icepick grip, pressed the hilt against his chest, and gave Thales a slight bow. In the next second, ripples surged around the Masked Protector in black, and he vanished into thin air again.
A few seconds later, dozens of Disaster Swords rushed towards them under Josef and Samel’s leadership. The group split up right in front of the Royal Guards and circled them!
However, another figure was already standing in their path.
There seemed to be a strange aura around the Knight of Judgment’s body. Wherever he set his foot on, the mercenaries who had seen what he was capable of, froze at once.
“Stay put!” Samel stopped the angry mercenaries exasperatedly. He glared at Zakriel before him. “Don’t forget about his power!”
Josef clenched his teeth and said, “He’s heavily injured! We just have to—”
“No!” Samel shook his head firmly. “I can’t risk it. Don’t forget about the masked one!”
Josef let out a frustrated bellow.
Thales steadied his breathing after considerable effort. He studied the situation where the power balance had been restored between the two opposing parties.
Ricky’s eyes were shut tight while he was bound in chains by four men. Thales held Quick Rope and stood behind the demon, while Canon stayed on guard by his side.
Zakriel held Everlasting Truth and stood alone as a wall before the other mercenaries.
The small area in the desert fell back into silence once more. All they could hear was the sound of heavy breathing.
“My old, masked friend.” While bound in chains, Ricky strenuously opened his eyes a little and searched for the elusive figure. “Marina said you were dealt with. When did you come back?”
There was no response.
Thales breathed in deeply, smiled, and said, “When we were underground; when your people were waiting and resting; when I kept you occupied by listening to your lecture about demons and the Powers of Eradication, and let you indulge in the thrill of mentoring someone.”
Ricky was slightly startled.
The teenager continued, “All the while, your old friend lurked in the darkness, busy untying knots, passing messages, and planning the next move.”
‘What? Kept me occupied by listening… Indulged in the thrill of mentoring someone?’ The tightly-bound Ricky felt his chest rise and fall rapidly.
He struggled again, but the four Royal Guards held him tightly. Their faces were red from the exertion.
“Meanwhile, you tried to make me lower my guard. When the time came, you asked if we could ‘talk’?” Ricky’s eyes were closed, but there seemed to an anger in his voice that threatened to incinerate everything.
Thales chuckled as a sign of confirmation.
Under the grey, gloomy sky, Ricky’s face was filled with rage. He clenched his teeth and said to Thales behind him, “I’ve underestimated you again, Your Highness. Even when you were listening to me, you were the same—cunning and deceitful.”
‘Cunning? Deceitful?’ Thales sighed.
He turned to look at Blade Fangs Camp in the distance.
“Don’t flatter me.”
Thales turned his head around, and smiled a toothy smile at the group of exasperated mercenaries before him.
“I am not a demon, after all.”