Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
The prince and the duke were silent for a while.
“So, this is why you are here today.”
Thales pulled the dagger on the bed frame out, threw it into the air, and caught its handle perfectly as the blade turned. After experiencing endless fights, he had become much more familiar with this action, and when he did it, it was simple, without any flourish.
Cyril narrowed his eyes as he watched the prince’s action.
Thales directed the tip of the dagger upward and pondered over his thoughts for a moment. “You wish to entice me to join you and become the third party that is not part of the two parties. You want me to become the person who can halt the horse carriage that is Constellation, which is going faster and faster, while I move between the coachman’s lash and the horse while it gallops?”
The third party.
In that instant, the room dimmed, as though the sun was covered by clouds.
The Duke of Western Desert’s hands pressed against the cane again and again.
“The horse will not submit to the lash, nor will the coachman give up on lashing it.” His gaze was piercing.
“As for the passengers, no matter who they are, they cannot sit and watch as it falls apart.”
Thales tapped the blade between his fingers gently.
Thales sneered softly, and he directed the tip of the dagger at the duke rudely.
“All this, including your random appearance, your act of drawing your sword to threaten me, your alarmist talk, and your meaningful and heartfelt words based on your experience, are all for this moment?”
Thales stared at Cyril with the ghost of a smile.
Cyril stared back at him for a while. He snorted softly.
“Did you think I would pull any fourteen-year-old little brat on the street to tell him all this?”
Cyril said coldly, “If I cannot be sure about what kind of man you are, if you are just a useless prick who has a short sighted vision and fears death; an impulsive brat raised by the Northland barbarians whose brain is only filled with muscles; a self-contented idiot who thinks he knows the universal truth just because he has read some history books…”
Thales raised his eyebrows.
The duke cast a side glance at him and examined him before he said scornfully, “If you are one of those people, then you are not worth my time and breath.”
The teenager was a little startled.
Thales exhaled and pushed the dagger under his pillow.
“You know, if you wanted to draw me to your side by flattering me, you could have used better words.”
The Duke of Western Desert parted his lips, which looked like a piece of flesh had been ripped off from it, and laughed eerily like a dried corpse that opened its mouth.
“Do not worry. There are plenty of people who say pretty words to you. The return of the prince is a major event that strongly affects Constellation. Countless gazes will focus on you.”
Cyril narrowed his eyes.
“But you have to be more careful and alert. The powerful and influential noble suzerains will want to outdo one another to appear in front of you. They want to entice the prince who has just returned to the nation, try their best to have you on their side, and make you the vanguard in fighting against Renaissance Palace.”
Fakenhaz’s tone changed.
“Before you accept their kind offer, please remember: they are only doing it because they oppose your father, not because they are genuinely loyal to you.”
Thales fell silent.
He suddenly recalled what Quick Rope said.
“‘The shackles of power.”‘
How could he live his life… differently?
When he thought of this, Thales inhaled deeply, and lifted his head.
“They will not succeed.”
But Cyril shook his head disdainfully.
“When I said ‘entice’, I refer not only to how they may knock on your door to deliver gifts to you.”
Thales frowned, and answered back sarcastically, “Of course, it may also include threatening me at the tip of their sword, and telling me that ‘the horse carriage cannot fall apart’.”
This time, it was Cyril who fell silent.
A few seconds later, the duke said faintly, “You know, some words may only be bullshit to most people in the world.”
Thales was instantly baffled.
Cyril snorted lightly.
“Remember everything that I have said today.”
He extended his finger, and shook it at the edge of his lips.
Cyril’s eyes were filled with cold light.
“Maybe you will find them useful one day.”
He paused for a second and curled his lips wickedly.
“Everything that I have told you, that is.”
When Thales saw the duke behave in such a way, he felt uneasy.
But Cyril changed the topic very soon.
“Compared to this, you should be wary of your father.”
Thales’ nerves grew tense slowly.
The robust figure appeared in his mind again and caused him to recall how he felt suffocated when he faced him.
The duke’s voice resounded in his ears. There was another meaning contained in his words.
“As you grow older, maybe he will realize that you are no longer the pitiful child, and maybe he will also want to draw you to his side as your father and control you with a king’s authority. But…”
Fakenhaz’s tone changed again, but he suddenly fell silent, as if the sky turned cloudy around him, and it was about to rain.
He stared at Thales closely. His terrifying face and cold gaze caused the latter’s heart to feel tense.
“Six years ago, when the news of Eckstedt undergoing a drastic change, King Nuven’s passing, and the political reshuffle of Northland politics traveled to Constellation, everyone was shocked.”
The duke’s tone and rhythm grew somber and slow, and it caused Thales to recall Putray when he recited bardic poems.
“Who would have thought that it was only months ago that old bones like us were still anxious as we were in a desperate situation, and we were worried that the ruthless Northland barbarians would travel south.”
Cyril exhaled gently and pointed at Thales.
“But, someone just used the least amount of effort to turn the tyrannical and overbearing Kingdom of the Great Dragon into a disastrous state, and the people are unable to even fend for themselves. Do you know what this means?”
‘Tyrannical, overbearing… A disastrous state, unable to even fend for themselves… What does it mean?’
Thales could not hold himself back from recalling the nightmarish evening in Dragon Clouds City.
He looked at Cyril, who still pointed at him, and cleared his throat unnaturally.
“You think too highly of me.”
The prince sighed, “What happened six years ago was an accident and a tragedy, I had no contribution whatsoever—”
Cyril interrupted him coldly, “I did not say it was your credit. Stop thinking so highly of yourself.”
Thales choked upon hearing it. His expression turned rather sour.
The unwelcomed duke snorted coldly.
“As I said, from the Battle of Eradication to the Bloody Year, the Fakenhazes have always pledged their allegiance to the Jadestars.”
He pointed at the national sword of the Ancient Empire, which leaned against the wall.
“For almost seven hundred years, Sentinel witnessed a lot of historical developments,” Cyril said with a serious tone, “a lot more than you can imagine.”
Thales felt Cyril’s freezing gaze upon him, and he had an ominous premonition.
“Therefore, I know.”
The duke said softly, “The so-called ‘descent of the calamity’ in Dragon Clouds City was by no means an accident or some rare coincidence.”
‘The descent of the calamity was by no means an accident.’
In that moment, Thales pressed down against his thighs.
Fortunately, Cyril did not look at him again.
The duke strode to the window and watched the camp quietly.
“Even though the news about their appearance is always cleverly concealed, made vague, played up, and edited before they eventually turn into hearsays and bedside stories as time goes by… But I know that they do exist and are real.”
‘Exist, and are real.’
He inhaled deeply to disguise the change in his emotions.
Cyril’s voice grew more piercing and urgent, “And every single time they appear, it is linked closely to our world.”
In the next instant, the Guardian Duke of Western Desert suddenly turned around. His gaze landed on Thales like lightning bolts!
“No matter what happened in Dragon Clouds City, it’s your father’s work.”
He said with utmost resolution, “He and that old viper Morat did something to make it happen.”
‘It’s your father’s work.’
Thales glanced at the man quietly while he bore with the blood-drenched memories surging in his mind.
But no matter how he tried to ignore the flashback, he could not help himself but recall those scenes.
The blue light in Asda’s eyes, the purple lines on Giza’s face, the tears on Little Rascal’s cheeks, Black Sword’s heavily wounded body, the strange mouth on Raphael’s arm, and… King Nuven’s head that rolled on the ground.
“Your father plays this game ruthlessly and mercilessly. You never know what his next move is. He would either ignore the rules or flip the chessboard over.”
The duke’s face was solemn while his tone was cold.
“Child, be strong. Do not turn into a chess piece that is easily manipulated and can be casually sacrificed.”
‘Easily manipulated. Can be casually sacrificed.’
When he sensed the man’s obvious attempt in sowing discord, Thales inhaled deeply before he exhaled slowly.
“I am his heir; I share his interests.”
There were hints of rejection in the prince’s voice.
“My safety is connected to his political stability. And he is my father.”
But what he said was greeted by another sarcastic remark made by Cyril.
Duke Fakanhaz said coldly, “Four hundred years ago, the Ascension King, Alan Jadestar the First slaughtered his son as an offering to God as he prayed for victory.”
‘Slaughtered his son as an offering to God.’
Thales stopped breathing for a moment and clenched his fists.
The duke stared into the distance, and he spoke with a drawl, “And every single day, your father creates new history.”
Thales closed his eyes.
“Your father and his enemies… Six years ago, the result of the first round was concluded because of your appearance. But when you returned to the kingdom after six years, the second round began.”
The duke’s tone was a little terrifying, “And that is not going to be easier.”
The room fell silent again.
Then, Thales opened his eyes slowly.
“Your Grace, so, you are a third party who does not stand with the nobles, and neither do you pledge your loyalty to the royal power.”
Cyril narrowed his eyes slightly. He sensed that the prince was a little different at this moment.
“If that day indeed comes, can I count on your strength?” Thales stared straight into his eyes.
Both of them were quiet for a little while, as if they both knew what a moment like this meant.
A few seconds later, the duke opened his mouth slowly. There was not a smile on his face.
“If I am the One-Eyed Dragon from the Land of Cliffs, I will say ‘Yes, I can.’”
Thales snorted through his nose.
“But you are not one of them.”
The duke nodded slowly before he shook his head.
“I am not one of them.”
The prince sighed softly.
‘Of course. He understands.’
But Thales immediately recalled something and giggled.
“Did you know that the Northlanders never ask whether you can or not?”
The prince sounded nostalgic.
“They only ask whether you will or will not do it.”
The duke was stunned.
After a few seconds, Fakenhaz laughed lightly.
“Sometimes I am grateful towards the Northlanders, no matter how brainless they are, at least they have raised an interesting prince.”
Thales also laughed.
“This is the third time you have criticized them. Why do you hate the Northlanders?”
Duke Cyril paused for a second. The expression on his face was complicated.
“Because my wife is a Northlander.”
Thales was surprised.
The duke glanced at Thales, and waved his fingers as if he had something important to say. “I have an advice for you… Do not be like me.”
When he was done, he laughed out loud before Thales, who was stunned, could react.
When he heard the man’s sharp and mean laughter, his face gradually froze.
“How can I be sure?”
The duke stopped laughing.
The prince stared at Cyril while his tone was filled with wariness, “The third party. As extravagant as you may speak, how do I know that you are not merely using me as a shield and siege hammer as you push me to the center of the battle?”
The room was quiet for a brief moment.
Then, Fakenhaz exhaled slowly, as if he had thought things through.
He sneered and glanced at Thales again.
“A year ago, when you were busy building snowmen in Dragon Clouds City… your father sent a letter secretly and requested that we employ our armies to rescue his heir and bring him home.”
Thales’ heart quivered.
‘A year ago? In order to bring me back, how long did they plot this chess game and this gamble?’
Cyril appeared to be dazed. He continued to say, “The suzerains of Western Desert thought they got hold of a rare opportunity. As impulsive as they were, they took the opportunity to deliberately make things difficult and to extort the king, as they wanted to reclaim Blade Fangs Camp from the royal family’s administration. His Majesty promised it readily.”
When he said this, something sparkled in Duke Fakenhaz’s eyes.
“One of my courtiers advised me against sending troops, since he thought it was a trap with malicious intentions.”
The duke looked at the Blade Fangs Camp outside the window coldly before he suddenly turned around.
“But the Fakenhazes still sent their troops even though I knew something was amiss. Do you know why?”
Thales and Cyril watched each other quietly for a few seconds before the former looked away.
“You said it earlier.”
The prince looked in a different direction and said with a sarcastic tone, “When you face the vassals, you are reluctant to replace the king when it comes to bearing the brunt of public criticism. You do not want to get in the way of the suzerains who want to reclaim their power, and you do not want to collapse when you are attacked from both sides.”
He mocked Cyril. “Like now, are you not sent here to clean up the mess, third party?”
This time, Fakenhaz stared at him for a long time.
The duke said slowly, “Because… I am the only one among the participants in this power play, who range from the callous king to the zealous suzerains of Western Desert.”
‘The only one?’
Thales looked slightly surprised.
“When the Legendary Wing and my vassals had their eyes fixed on Blade Fangs Camp, no one cared about the real matter in the desert, and no one cared about the heir to the throne, who was supposed to be the protagonist of this entire situation.”
Cyril’s voice slowly grew serious. “During that time, I was the only one who believed… I believed that, compared to whom Blade Fangs Camp should belong to, the noble’s authority, and His Majesty’s victory or failure…”
The duke bent down, and his head almost touched his cane. He took a side glance at Thales from afar while his right hand, which was on the cane, pointed at the second prince.
“…saving you, saving Prince Thales Jadestar and ensuring his safe return to the kingdom should be what everyone cared about; it should be our top priority.”
Thales was dazed as he watched Fakenhaz with complicated emotions.
Cyril straightened his body. The action hid away the elderly demeanor and the withered look on him earlier.
His gaze was sharp, as if it could penetrate all the things in the world.
Thales opened his mouth laboriously, “You’re pretty good when you’re offering lip service…”
But the duke spoke up and interrupted him again!
“This is why I stopped some suzerains from revealing news to the Eckstedtians secretly, and also stopped their shameful plot in stopping you from making a return,” Cyril said loudly.
Thales was astonished.
The duke’s intonation rose and fell, which largely reduced the sharpness in his voice.
“Baron Gurtz, therefore, led the highly efficient Raven Whistle Light Cavaliers against his superior’s order to search for you with everything that they have. They did not even spare the orcs.”
Thales could not register what he just heard for a moment.
But soon, he realized something did not add up.
‘Baron Gurtz. Raven Whistle Light Cavalier.’
The familiar names led Thales to suddenly look up!
His eyes were fixed on Cyril.
“Who did you just say?”
But Fakenhaz only looked at him with interest.
Two seconds later, the duke appeared to have had admired Thales’ expression enough. He then said slowly, “This is why… after you and your merchant group parted with Kandarll Nushan, whose path it took was strange, you had a smooth journey without any obstruction before you arrived at Blade Fangs Camp.”
Thales’ mind paused for a moment.
‘Merchant group. Kandarll Nushan. A smooth journey without any obstruction… It is impossible.’
Thales was dazed as he glanced at the duke, who looked indifferent.
“How do you know—”
But Thales looked down and stopped himself from saying what he wanted to say.
He remembered now.
“Baron Gurtz,” Thales subconsciously said, “The commander whom I met in the Great Desert and who hunted the orcs with the freak squad…”
Thales raised his head and glanced at Cyril, but he could not hide the surprise in his tone. “Is he on your side?”
Cyril laughed softly. He sounded confident and relaxed.
“Before he was conferred the title of Baron Amos who serves the Kroma Family, Fagel Gurtz used to be my courtier.”
The room was quiet for a few seconds until Thales exhaled laboriously.
He asked in disbelief, “You knew all along? From the moment I ran into the military in the desert and entered Blade Fangs Camp?
‘Also, if the baron is on his side, then what I heard in My Home was…’
The duke let out giggles that caused others to feel uneasy.
“Not only those.”
In that instant, Cyril’s eerie and grim laugh sounded extremely terrifying.
“I also knew that the Blade Fangs Camp was highly inauspicious, even though it could be easily claimed by others; I knew that there was definitely something off about the actions of the regular soldiers of the royal family; I knew that Williams’ mercenary dogs were eager for trouble; I also knew that the meeting between Gurtz and orcs in the Great Desert was not a coincidence.”
The duke’s words were like a steel blade that reflected piercing cold light.
‘What did he say?’
Thales breathed while he felt shocked and bewildered.
‘Blade Fangs Camp was highly inauspicious. Actions of the regular soldiers of the royal family. The mercenary dogs were eager for trouble. The meeting with the orbs was not a coincidence. News and intelligence like this mean that…’
Thales frowned and glanced at the duke.
“You knew everything… Yet, you did not appear, look for me or interfere with the fights in the camp; when the Legendary Wing took over the camp again, you did not help the Western Desert suzerains, you only, only…”
Cyril appeared relieved as he exhaled.
“I only had Gurtz ensure that you got into the camp before I removed ourselves far away from this matter. I only asked the Fakenhazes’ Skull Guards to change their shift and leave the camp much earlier so that they would stay out of the center of the whirlpool and this trap, which seek to turn us into easy targets. I simply allowed that bastard Williams to complete his hunt.”
Thales could not help but asked, “Why? Before everything started, you clearly had the information and capacity to turn the tide, but you sat and watched the clash between the royal family and Western Desert while your vassals… suffered tremendous loss?”
The duke laughed.
“Because the clash was inevitable, and this ending was also inevitable.”
Cyril watched the Blade Fangs Camp outside the window and appeared to be deep in thought.
“The dukes of Western Desert lost this round and felt dejected and depressed as they lost manpower and reputation; His Majesty won this round, kept Blade Fangs Camp, and dealt a big blow on his opponents. Both sides merely returned to how things were.”
A thought appeared in Thales’ mind, and it caused him to figure the situation out.
As predicted, Cyril turned around.
“Take a moment to imagine this: if I had interfered with His Majesty’s smooth chess game successfully, driven away the regular soldiers of the royal family, saved the dukes from their losses, and helped them reclaim their control of the Western Frontlines… What would become of Western Desert later on?”
Thales sighed again.
The duke continued to say, “Other than congratulating each other and celebrating, would those stupid vassals of mine be contented and walk away or would they not be satisfied with their gain and want more? Would a man like your father accept reality and give up…” Cyril’s tone turned very terrifying. “…or would he change his opinion drastically about me and the power of Western Desert, and decide that he should go all out to make us pay for what happened?”
The duke let out a cold grin.
“The question that follows is…”
Deep lines appeared on Fakenhaz’s ugly face.
“Would the Ruins become the next Cold Castle or Dragon Clouds City? Sometimes, it’s best to react by doing nothing.”
Thales felt weak, and he leaned against the wall.
The duke spoke with a light tone, but Thales felt as if there was a huge pressure pressing on his shoulders.
He just returned from Northland and had gotten used to how the Northland barbarians would fight upon disagreement as well as draw their swords to threaten others and draw blood; at least that was what the nobles did.
But after today, he suddenly felt enlightened about many things.
Constellation employed another set of game rules and regulations.
It was… another type of power shackle.
The prince’s gaze dimmed.
“Now, is this sufficient as evidence?”
Cyril said coldly, “I am not the kind of noble in your impression, and I am not your father either. In this colosseum named Constellation where the fighters will fight each other to the death, I am the epitome of what you would call the third party.”
The third party.
Thales shut his eyes.
He was quiet for almost thirty seconds.
Then, Cyril said slowly, “Hmm, Williams should be back soon from patrolling. I certainly do not want to bump into him. Gotham cannot beat him.”
Thales opened his eyes and watched as the duke bowed slightly to him.
“It was a pleasant conversation. Now, you may continue with your lunch.”
Thales sighed with mixed feelings and bowed back.
*Thud, thud, thud*
As his robe fluttered, the Duke of Western Desert turned around with a mysterious smile and walked toward the door.
But Thales saw something.
“Your Grace, you forgot your sword!”
With a frown, the prince pointed at Sentinel, the gracefully curved national sword of the Ancient Empire.
The duke’s cane froze for a moment on the ground.
However, Cyril said something different from Thales’ expectation.
The Duke of Western Desert turned around, and said coldly, “It is you who has forgotten your sword.”
Thales was astounded.
Cyril narrowed his eyes, and pointed at the national sword of the Ancient Empire which leaned against the wall.
“From now on, Sentinel is yours.”
Thales was startled.
“Hold it tightly. Hold your sword tightly.”
The Guardian Duke of Western Desert, Cyril Fakenhaz from the Four-Eyed Skull family, was heard saying profoundly, “Do not lose it.”
When he was done, the duke turned around and walked out the door.
His last words traveled from outside the room, “Also, send my regards to the brat from the Cato family, if he is still alive, that is.”