Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
A monster that feasted on power.
Thales could not help but recall a figure that had not appeared at the surface of his mind for a long time. The figure was one that held a scepter and wore a crown over his head. He was Thales’ father, a man with a presence so majestic it was difficult to get close to him.
The prince sank into deep thought for a few seconds.
“You do not like the current situation in Western Desert, and is unwilling to forget how Western Desert was like in the past when it only belonged to the Fakenhaz Family, right? That is why you hope that I will do something.”
The prince raised his head and looked at Cyril. His tone grew wary. “Did you know that someone told me something similar six years ago when I left Eternal Star City?”
The Duke of Western Desert kept his gaze fixed on Thales for a few seconds before he smiled. “No, Your Highness.” Fakenhaz slowly exhaled and turned to face the window. “Please do not lump me together with those conservative fools who cling to tradition and old rules, or are obsessed with the glory of the past and hence refuse to open their eyes to look at the future—even though there are plenty among my peers who are like this.”
( Box novel.c om ) Thales tutted and said, “Then, what makes you different from them?”
This time, Cyril remained quiet for a long time. He just remained still and looked from above at the bustle of activity at the seemingly chaotic camp.
“Why, Thales…” Finally, the Duke of Western Desert spoke with a hint of sentiment, “Why are we allowed to rule over this land?”
The Prince of Constellation scowled while he remained wary.
The master of the Fakenhaz Family said languidly, “Why are we allowed to enjoy this status of being above everyone else? Me, as the current duke who rules over Western Desert, and you, who will rule over all of Constellation in the future once you are crowned?”
Cyril changed his topic too quickly, and there was sarcasm hidden in his words. He also ridiculed Thales, even though it was barely noticeable, and it made the prince—who had grown accustomed to how the Northlanders did things—incredibly unused to it.
“Is it because we as rulers are wise enough, and are matchless when it comes to strategies and resourcefulness? Is the leader of the Northlanders able to rule over them because he was courageous and always came out boldly whenever there was danger?”
The duke stood before the window. The shadow of his thin and frail figure was deeply imprinted on the ground.
“Or are you able to rule over the people because you are benevolent, honest, and you care about the people? Or is it because this is the glory of your ancestors, and this power is passed down through generations?” Cyril changed his tone, to his favorite mockful one. “Could it truly be destiny’s calling, and you are chosen because of popular favour, and the blood flowing in your veins can truly… shine?”
As usual, the duke said only half of what he truly wanted to say, and he stared at Thales with a look as if he was being entertained. He seemed to be waiting for something.
( Box novel.c om ) The teenager was quiet for a few seconds. Finally, Thales sighed deeply. “From start until now… Just who taught you how to speak in this manner, Duke Fakenhaz? Does he specialize in teaching idiots?”
‘What?’ Cyril’s smile froze.
Thales shrugged in resignation once he finished sighing. “You know, I only just realized today that I really hate rhetorical questions.”
‘Rhetorical questions?’ The duke’s expression became even more puzzled. But the prince did not continue with Cyril’s words. Instead, he looked at the duke with an indifferent face.
“Some advice, Unwelcomed Duke: when you are in a discussion or a negotiation, throwing out rhetorical questions to deliberately make yourself sound mysterious will just make you look like a clown who giggles and entertains the crowd. Aside from using his tone to make himself sound infallible, it does nothing to provide useful information.”
When he heard Thales answer him impassively, Fakenhaz’s faze slowly grew tense.
“If you have the answer, then say it in a statement. If you do not approve of it, then say ‘no’ and be done with it. Because other than having their emotions stirred up, no one is interested in understanding what you try to say using rhetorical questions.” Once Thales finished speaking, he stabbed his dagger into the headboard.
The room was quiet for a long time. Only the sound of cold wind could be heard for a time.
Cyril glared at Thales as if this was the first time he came to know him. The duke’s lips curled up before they fell down again. He seemed to want to say something, but also seemed to be at a loss.
Thales, however, just wrapped his arms over his chest as though this had nothing to do with him. He looked innocent when he tilted his head to the side and pursed his lips while waiting for Cyril’s answer.
In the end, Cyril closed his eyes and lowered his head before he let out a long sigh. “This is why I dislike Northlanders.”
But Thales only raised his eyebrows and took over the conversation. “No, this is just because your presence is unwelcome.”
Cyril paused again. He was speechless for a moment.
“Let us continue. In what manner are we allowed to rule?” Once he said his fill, Thales exhaled. He sat on his bed, leaned against the headboard, and spread his arms in satisfaction before he continued saying, “Please, do not let me interrupt you.”
Cyril sighed in his heart. ‘You already interrupted me a long time ago.’ The duke remained silent for a while before he spoke again, “In truth, I do not believe that we are allowed to rule because of the reasons above, Thales. I do not believe it at all.”
Thales’ spoke again by stressing heavily on each syllable. “Very good!”
Cyril froze for a moment again.
“We can finally start talking.” Thales raised his index finger in Cyril’s direction while feeling extremely comfortable with himself. “It is not hard to converse civilly, yes? Please continue doing so.”
Cyril had just recomposed himself, but Thales’ words made him feel frustrated again. The duke sighed. ‘The teenager before me is no longer the bastard I knew six years ago at the beginning, who loved flaunting his intelligence while he clenched his fists pretending to be a prince with a red face… He is Thales Jadestar, a cluster of stars that exist beyond the universe.’
When he thought of this, the duke turned to the side slightly, and the cold light reflected off his ugly face.
“Prince Thales, from my perspective, habit is the true ruler of the land, the kingdom, and the entire world. It is the reason why countless people are willing to submit to us.”
“Habit… habit…” Thales mulled over Cyril’s words, and suddenly, he came to realize something. Once he seized back into his hands the right to speak from the unsuspecting Cyril, he began to slowly figure out the drifting crux in Cyril’s words, which he made seem unimportant because of how casual he sounded.
However, at that moment, Cyril leaned against his cane and took a few faltering steps in the room.
“Men are accustomed to going out for work to support the family; women are accustomed to staying at home raising the children; merchants are accustomed to traveling back and forth while selling counterfeit, substandard goods; farmers are accustomed to paying taxes and being drafted into armies; nobles are accustomed to governing the country; priests are accustomed to chattering about gods; the army is accustomed to violence; government officials are accustomed to giving out orders and listening to orders; authors are accustomed to being late in handing over their manuscripts; suzerains are accustomed to being bossy; and kings are accustomed to sitting high above others in their thrones…”
The duke spoke very quickly, just like his footsteps. He sounded as though he was climbing a mountain where the top could not be seen.
“People are accustomed to paying when they buy things, accustomed to being punished when they commit crimes, accustomed to bow their heads before death, accustomed to raising their heads when they see a chance to live…”
Cyril looked dazed. He brushed the old wall gently with his left hand, and his expression became serious, which made Thales sit straight subconsciously.
“Habit… That is how they, and by that—I mean all the living beings we rule over—form their habits, because this is how the world appears right before our eyes when we were born from our mother’s wombs. That is how habits are formed, because the world is set to operate this way; the people made the world operate in this manner because of how they repeat and practice their habits in their limited lives. Their habits are formed because they watched how countless people act and react to situations time and again; they instinctively respect, imitate, and accept those habits.”
At that moment, the Duke of Western Desert suddenly raised his head with one hand pressed it against the wall. “Thales!”
The teenager was shocked. Cyril stared at him coldly.
“The people submit to and believe in our rule, they respect our status, and are loyal to it, but it is not because of how mighty we are, how great of a status we are born with, how much grace we bestowed upon them, what sort of threat we are to them, how effective our rule is, how much it benefits the people, much less how your blood glows because of gods’ blessings!
“It’s simply because they are used to it!”
The cold wind that blew into the room through the window caused the duke’s leather robe and hair to flutter constantly. It made Cyril Fakenhaz appear even more bizarre and frightening.
Thales instinctively gulped. He already had no energy to bother with the mocking tone in the duke’s voice, which seemed to be a natural part of him. Cyril narrowed his eyes, but his gaze was as piercing as ever.
“Because, from the very first moment they opened their eyes and looked at the world, they found their ancestors doing this, their parents, and their peers as well. So, they, too, are used to doing this, and they have to convince their children to do what they are doing as well.”
Thales frowned slowly.
“And this group of people displayed their habits to another group of people, be it to their children, their elders, relatives, neighbors, strangers, masters, servants, peers, superiors, or their subordinates. They show it to them repeatedly, day after day, year after year.”
Cyril stopped moving. His voice turned deeper and more profound, as if he was narrating the most terrifying ghost story that would cause chills in others even though it was not cold.
“It repeats until all of us, including you and I, are disgusted with unfamiliarity and peculiarities, and become inert. Then, we will come to realize this logic: those who go against these habits are unusual and must be destroyed.”
Thales’ expression became even more anxious.
“Hence, these habits spread to more people and are etched deeper in us. They are set firmly in stone and become norms. Then, we call them rules.”
There was an unprecedented solemnness, and ghastliness in Cyril’s voice.
A gust of cold wind blew in, making Thales curl into himself, but the sunlight from outside the window did not give him any warmth. Thales suddenly felt that the room at the top of the tower was incredibly cold. It felt just like the Renaissance Palace in his memories.
“Do you understand what I mean, Your Highness?” Cyril’s voice rose again and dragged him back to the present from his memories. “To me, this is the one and only thing that lets us maintain our rule. It is weak and pitiful, but also eternal, powerful, and has a solid foundation among us. And those who want to break these habits and destroy those rules… are all terrifying.” Cyril smiled coldly.
‘Those who want to break these habits and destroy those rules…’ Thales could not help but raise his eyebrows and snorted softly. “Like what the Legendary Wing did to Blade Fangs Camp this time?”
The duke stopped talking for one second. “No. It is not that small of a scale, and not so close to home, much less to such a gentle degree.” Fakenhaz’s voice became gloomy, as though it contained the lamentations of a few centuries. “For example, all of us know that a long time ago, a certain ruler of Constellation… No, I should say several generations of rulers after this king, cast the bait of royal rule on the people and turned thousands of peasants into enemies of the suzerains.”
His words made Thales’ nerves grow tense. ‘The bait of royal rule…’ At that moment, Thales suddenly had a feeling that Cyril Fakenhaz the Unwelcomed, whose actions were bizarre and who spoke out-of-turn, had come here not just to draw the second prince to his side.
The prince became even sterner.
“With the ladder made using royal power, they slowly climbed up and fought against us nobles who ruled over our own territories.” Cyril slowly walked back to the window and looked at the camp in the desert under the window again. “Hence, families which had flourished for centuries fell to ruin. Old nobles lost their power and new nobles took their place. Countless people’s fates changed. No one could predict the lives and deaths of the people. All this formed the kingdom as it is today.”
The duke’s voice was deep and vague, but it allowed no refutation.
“In just a few centuries, Renaissance Palace has, step-by-step, gently, slowly yet firmly stripped the nobles of the power to pass on the legacy of their families, the power to hand over their titles to their children, the power to receive taxes, the power to appoint their government officials, the power to pass verdicts in court, and the power to mobilize armies. They do this in an unstoppable manner.”
When he heard this, Thales could not help but think of himself generously describing the present situation in Constellation to the five archdukes and one archduchess six years ago on the night of Dragon’s Blood. He also recalled the former Royal Guards’ story, which he had heard not too long ago.
‘Families, which had flourished for centuries, fell to ruin. Old nobles lost their power and new nobles took their place… Countless people’s fates changed. No one could predict the lives and deaths of the people…’ Thales thought deeply. He did not say a word.
“You know, even though both sides could see each other’s moves clearly, what truly makes this game interesting is that there are endless possible outcomes to the moves that we can see.” Cyril leaned forward, as though he wanted to see the scenery below the window clearer; as though he was looking at his chessboard.
“Make one move and predict the next ten steps. With each piece you move, you not only affect the current game, but also the game a few steps later, dozens of steps later, even a hundred steps later. Then, the opponent who appears in one hundred steps will have no way of fighting against you and can only surrender. Is that not much more interesting than a head-on fist fight?”
For some reason, when he heard this, Thales suddenly remembered Black Sword. The teenager recalled how the man fought against Giza, and subsequently, how he brought Thales to break into Hydra Kilika’s heavy encirclement, which was made of flesh and blood.
Black Sword calculated and considered every factor in the battle from the initial point of entry, to the choice of paths to break into the encirclement. He had calculated all the factors right from the beginning and slowly walked towards victory. He was like a chess player who treated battles like a chessboard.
Cyril’s voice was stable. His thin hair and robes fluttered in the cold wind. “He quietly made his moves without batting an eyelid. He sowed his seeds in spring and harvested his bountiful crops in autumn. This is the Virtuous King’s brilliant path, no?”
‘Virtuous King.’ Thales was a little stunned. ‘Virtuous King…?’ He subconsciously repeated.
Cyril suddenly turned around. He put on the expression of a joker—the one that made other people frown—and his tone returned to being as ‘friendly’ as before.
“What? Did you think that after so many years, none of us, no matter how foolish and slow-witted we are, would be able to see exactly what the Virtuous King was doing, from his ludicrous National Conference to that damn royal bank of his, especially when we are directly involved in it?”
Thales’ heart sank. The duke raised his head and narrowed his eyes. “Many of the nobles know, just like I do, but we can do nothing about it.”
‘They know… but are powerless.’ Thales sucked in a deep breath. He could not help but remember the worried look on Lampard’s face when he mentioned the Virtuous King in the carriage.
One move during his age, and a century-old chess game.
Thales’ eyebrows furrowed even further.
“Why do you have that look on your face?” The duke looked at the scene outside the window, and he looked rather unconcerned with whatever was going on around him. “The Old Crow mentioned that you were rather interested in the Virtuous King in his letter, is that not true?”
Thales shook his head. “I was just—” The prince’s words came to an abrupt halt. ‘Wait…’ When Thales realized something, he widened his eyes!
“Old Crow?” The prince raised his head swiftly and cried out, “You know him?”
Cyril’s laughter traveled into his ears as the wind blew against the prince. “Know him? Hmph, Prince Thales, when Meryl Hicks traveled from Dragon-Kissed Land to go to Constellation through the Three Kingdoms of the Mystery Sea, before he traveled such a long way into Eckstedt to the north, who do you think sent his army to escort him through the desert?”
Thales was stunned. ‘Meryl Hicks moved through the desert and traveled north to Eckstedt… But how does Constellation’s Duke of Western Desert know this elderly scholar from Anlenzo Dukedom?’
Cyril seemed to have sensed his puzzlement. The duke heaved a long sigh, and a hint of nostalgia seeped into his unpleasant voice. “When I was young and still a rogue, a unique scholar from Dragon-Kissed Land came to serve as my teacher.”
Thales’ ears twitched. When Cyril said this, the duke shook his head and smiled. “Then, my uncle found out that his qualifications as a scholar was faked, and in his anger, he stripped Hicks naked and threw him into the desert. Ah… it’s a youth worth remembering.”
Thales blinked. He spent a few seconds to put Cyril’s story into sequence.
‘So, that means the Guardian Duke of Western Desert, and Hicks the Old Crow…’ The surprise on Thales’ face became even more obvious. ‘Putray said that the old man had taught many important people before. Looks like he wasn’t exaggerating things.’
“Your Highness, you and I have plenty of things that are connected to each other, even though we can’t see those things.” The laughter of the Duke of Western Desert grew louder. Then, he turned around from the window. Cyril said in a seemingly nonchalant tone, “As for what you asked just now, about who taught me to say those words and whether he specialized in teaching idiots…”
Duke Fakenhaz slowly narrowed his eyes. At that moment, Thales suddenly felt his face muscles tense.
*Thud!* Cyril struck the floor with his cane, hard.
“I do believe that Hicks has indeed taught idiots before… What do you say, Your Highness?” The duke narrowed his eyes and stared at Thales, there was malice in his gaze that he could not hide.
At that moment, the air in the room seemed to have frozen over.
In the face of the question that he must not answer, Thales, through considerable difficulty, put on a face as if someone just shoved a handful of flies into his mouth after a long moment had passed, and he forced himself to smile awkwardly.
Under the vengeful gaze of the Duke of Western Desert, Thales laboriously changed the conversation topic. “I think I have an idea on what you want to do now.”
Thales raised his head. He had started to slowly get used to the characteristics of Cyril’s speech, which made him seem indifferent, but showed that he was actually quite alert to what was happening.
“All of you are powerless in the face of Renaissance Palace, so all of you hope that I, the new king, will start changing the country from the throne?”
However, Fakenhaz shook his head again against his expectations. “First, it’s not ‘all of us’, just me.”
Thales was slightly stunned.
“Next, change the country? No.” The duke said softly, “Even if you are not around, the country will still continue to change.”
Cyril started walking along the wall again. He occasionally knocked against the furnishings of the room with his right hand like he was recalling something.
“More accurately speaking, the entire world is changing. It’s not happening only now, one hundred years ago, nor six hundred years ago.” The Duke of Western Desert’s eyes sparkled. “It started changing the moment John the Black Eye used his might as king to force the suzerains of the country to mobilize their army, and the world continued changing when Line Breaker, Sumer the Second announced the Legacy Bill; when the Cutter, Tormond the Fourth, anointed Sunset Goddess’ ritual master; when the Creditor, Alan the Third, passed the king’s tax laws.
“Then, the Virtuous King, Mindis the Third, made unprecedented reformations, and the Poet, Aydi the First, gathered the nobles together to stay in Eternal Star City.”
The master of the Fakenhaz Family put down his right hand and turned around again. He faced Thales, and his gaze was dark and profound.
“At present, your father is ruling the country with an iron hand in a manner that has practically caused public outrage. The world is changing with every second, it is not limited to only the Virtuous King’s generation.”
Thales felt uneasy under his stare. He could not help but wrap his arms tighter around himself. ‘From Constellation’s second king, Black Eye John, to Kessel the Fifth…’ He suddenly realized that the history Cyril mentioned spanned much further than what Lampard mentioned that year in Dragon Clouds City’s Heroic Spirit Palace.
‘Not just the Virtuous King, and not just… Kessel.’
“Changing with every second… These words sound very familiar.” The prince sighed. “Perhaps you truly are the Old Crow’s student.”
When Cyril heard this, he snorted. “Hicks opened my eyes, broadened my thoughts, and increased my tolerance.” His gaze then changed. “But what about you, Prince Thales, heir to the kingdom? Have you opened them?”
The two people became quiet for a while.
“If I opened my eyes, broadened my thoughts, and increased my tolerance, what do you wish me to see?” asked Thales slowly once his expression sank.
Cyril did not smile. He only looked at Thales seriously as if he had been waiting for this moment. “Your Highness, tell me, what did you see in the National Conference six years ago?” Fakenhaz asked softly.
‘The National Conference six years ago…’ Thales remembered the conference that decided his fate, and he could not help but put down his arms. The teenager did not read into the situation too much, he only answered crisply and carefully, “My father won.”
Cyril snorted coldly. “Yes, your father won. He won completely, and he did not just win in that conference, he won over the entire kingdom. He has been winning during the eighteen years after he was crowned king while in despair.”
Thales clenched his fists. Then, just as he expected, the Duke of Western Desert changed his topic. He started speaking concisely and swiftly. His voice rose and fell. “But did you think that the Northlanders who came from the same line as the Eckstedtians, will be satisfied and at ease with this result once the mastermind’s scheme was revealed and peace returned to the Northern Territory?”
‘The Northern Territory.’ Thales recalled Miranda Arunde, who once shared the same prison cell with him.
“The children of Blade Edge Hill might rely on royal power, but do not forget, that is a region that is infamous for operating with the blade and sword, and was rife with bandits during the age of the Empire. The rebellion during the Bloody Year also began from that place.”
‘Blade Edge Hill.’ The blurry face of Lyanna Tabark, Duchess of Blade Edge Hill, flashed in Thales’ mind.
“And the Land of Cliffs Region has long since been restless and unable to control themselves. You must understand that Koshder Nanchester is a troublesome person.”
‘Land of Cliffs Region.’ Thales remembered the person with only one eye and was very aggressive and imposing.
Cyril watched Thales’ expression. His withered and ugly face showed deep wariness. “As for Western Desert, look at what happened to Blade Fangs Camp over the past few days, Your Highness, and tell me, what will Renaissance Palace receive from the suzerains of Western Desert who are ranked below me?
“Will the vassals who work under my name shudder and be unable to rise to power again before the Legendary Wing, or will they grit their teeth and hide their hatred?”
Thales recalled Roman’s arrogant and domineering behavior when he faced almost everyone. He could not help but suck in a deep breath.
The prince started pondering the duke’s words, which was something he had not done for a long time since he talked to him. “Are you saying that my father’s actions will eventually bring chaos that will be difficult to handle, even with his methods in ruling the country?”
Cyril shook his head. At that moment, the Duke of Western Desert put away his joking (and perhaps unperceptive and ignorant) attitude, which was rare of him, and his voice became dark and ghastly.
“When will you understand that your father’s methods in ruling the country has nothing to do with the ending he will inevitably obtain with how wilfully he acts? And he’s not the only one who will be affected, countless others will be affected as well, be it the king’s partisans who support the king, or people like Koshder who oppose him. The conflict that escalates between them will bring about an ending no one can ever predict.”
Thales gritted his teeth lightly. For a very long time, the impression his father, Kessel the Fifth, left behind in his mind was this: in the political fights of the kingdom, his father always had the upper hand, and he was forever the one who suppressed his opponents. Yet were Fakenhaz’s words… truly logical?
Cyril heaved a long sigh and put down his disabled left foot. He pressed both his hands on the cane.
The duke then spoke with a contemplative expression. “Perhaps it is a natural progression for the age of suzerains ruling over their region, and the age where there are many kings and vassals will slowly fade away. Perhaps this is the great trend in Constellation, and it has never stopped. All overconfident acts that try to stop it are all foolish and will end in vain.”
However, Fakenhaz raised his head in the end and, with gleaming eyes, stared at the prince, who was also deep in thought.
“But similarly, all who are impatient and want to use the trend to push things forward, to cut down the time required for the change to be complete, and to quicken things so that they can see the ending they want, are equally foolish.”
‘Impatient. Equally foolish.’ Thales did not speak.
Cyril remained serious and stern, although no one knew whether he had listened to Thales’ suggestion. “As you rule a country, you can see instantaneous results when you implement new plans. Even the wise and far-sighted Virtuous King placed his pieces carefully and watched the results over a hundred years. You cannot harbor the thought of accomplishing something in one go and deciding the fates of thousands crudely, rashly, and aggressively”—he sighed—”just like the King of Blades, Tormond the Second; Eagle Talons, Kessel the Third; and the Red King, John the Second. Their biographies make it seem as though they have committed many meritorious deeds, but in truth, they have planted many seeds of misfortune deep in the country. It will only make things worse.”
Fakenhaz stopped talking and sank into deep thought. He stood where he was and simply allowed the cold wind to blow against his leather robe.
‘…as if they have committed many meritorious deeds, but in truth, planted many seeds of misfortune.’ For some reason, Thales suddenly thought of King Nuven, Dragon Clouds City—which was forsaken by its followers and surrounded by enemies—as well as Heroic Spirit Palace, which no longer had a stable foundation and was in a precarious situation after the Born King died. He also remembered the pitiful girl who sat on the archduchess’ seat, trembling in fear, and who could not even manage to wear Triumph on her thumb.
Thales stayed silent for a very long time before he snorted. “My father will most likely be displeased if he hears this.”
Cyril looked up. “That is why there is no need for you to mention this to him as well… unless the day comes when you must tell him.”
Thales did his best to ignore the hidden meaning contained in Cyril’s words and said, “But you also said that the great progression has never stopped, and all those who tried to stop it are foolish, and their efforts will end in vain. But what if these are just obstacles that we must overcome, a path that we must take before we reach the summit?”
Once he finished listening to Thales, Cyril was quiet first before he cackled coldly in reply.
“Just?” The duke lifted his cane again and limped towards Thales, but Thales felt that the duke’s terrifying face was no longer as unacceptable as he had previously thought.
“Be careful of your words, Thales, I believe the Old Crow warned us before.” Cyril Fakenhaz’s expression was solemn. “Do not let the pride that makes you put yourself on a pedestal ruin you, regardless of whether that pride comes from the contentment of sitting on a throne, or the conceit you harbor when you look down on the events that happened in history.”
When he sensed the unwavering tone in Cyril’s words, Thales was unable to help but tense up. In the cold wind, both the Guardian Duke of Western Desert’s sharp gaze and piercing voice pressed down on Thales.
“As for the talk of all this being obstacles that we must overcome and a path we must take before we reach the summit, you must understand… that the darkness before the pre-dawn arrives is especially terrifying, and the destruction before a hurricane leaves is the greatest.”