Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
The yellow sand still danced about in a barely discernible manner in the air while the first rays of the sun were as dim as always.
Derek was riding on a horse. His body moved up and down as his saddle did. Meanwhile, he watched the horizon, which connected the earth and clouds, without emotion.
Everything around them was gloomy and blurry as usual.
After his subordinate courteously reminded him a few seconds later, Derek turned his horse around to look at the scene before him. There was a gigantic “door”, which was formed by more than ten chevaux de frise, and it forcibly flattened the hard sand. Behind it lay fortresses of different heights and guards who stood solemnly as well as respectfully around the area. Then there was the Double Cross-Shaped Stars Flag, fluttering in the wind.
Of course, there was also a flag that appeared as if it was enveloped in starlight.
It was the Stardust Battle Flag.
Everything was just like usual.
As expected, a group of camp guards strode forward arrogantly.
They had a clash with Derek’s troop. The quarrels, bellows, jostling, and collisions between them were by no means isolated cases.
They were like two stallions that fed from the same manger.
Derek did not bother to interfere and allowed the matter to resolve itself while he fished his waterskin from his saddle sack.
In Western Desert, your tongue would tell you faster than your eyes that the Great Desert was not too far away.
As Derek gulped down his third sip of water, the man who was the captain of his personal guards, pointed at the flag behind him indignantly. The conflict between the two parties had reached its climax. Both regarded each other in anger, and they could no longer hold back their emotions. Some of them drew their blades and swords while others loaded their bows and crossbows up with arrows.
His personal guards gave the order, and hundreds of horses dispersed into a battle formation.
The camp guards behind the gigantic “door” rushed and charged forward as they gritted their teeth and surrounded them completely.
Derek even saw more than ten Mystic Guns and city defense crossbows move out of the crenels high up the observation tower to aim at them.
The atmosphere was so tense that they were about to go into a fight.
It was just like old times.
Derek, who was still on his horse, snorted softly.
He lifted the waterskin and gracefully took his fourth sip of water in a relaxed manner.
Then, as it ought to be, at the last minute, Frank the Stallion happened to appear at the door. He shouted sternly to stop his subordinates—the regular military soldiers—before he courteously and respectfully walked up to Derek. He wanted to plead Derek to forgive the Royal Family’s regular soldiers, who had to be on alert during those “critical times”.
As if they ever had any “normal moments” to begin with.
Frank, who appeared much older than he was eleven years ago, welcomed them delightedly and warmly on behalf of the Baron of Blade Fangs Dune.
He also took the opportunity to apologize sincerely on behalf of the baron who was occupied with work and could not be there to welcome them personally.
It was just like old times.
What followed was their troops entering the camp under disdainful and hostile gazes. They got to the main road and were welcomed by loud, clamoring noises made by the people there.
Derek’s lackadaisical attitude and fatigue on the road faded away. He straightened his body, pulled back his shoulders, and allowed his favorite horse, Saber, to advance casually, gracefully, quietly, and cautiously. His personal guards on his sides rode on their horses as they lashed their whips to open up the path before them. Their formation was orderly, and they gave off a powerful air.
The noisy camp fell silent.
For around five seconds, the people on the street were dazed as they looked on in confusion and surprise.
Then, the first batch of people widened their eyes, quivered, covered their mouths, and let out repressed cries.
They made a big fuss while they pointed at the big flag behind Derek and told others, who had not registered the situation, what it meant.
While Derek was under all sorts of gazes, he stretched his muscles taut, be it the muscles in his waist, back, shoulders, or cheeks.
It was just like old times.
After about three seconds, there was a stir among the people.
A deafening commotion comparable to the sounds made during a siege rose. The captain of Derek’s personal guards pulled the reins skillfully and advanced with a fierce face. His custom-made whip formed a pretty circle and made a loud crack in the air as a warning.
The captain’s voice echoed within the fort for at least a second.
Then, the crowd that flooded the street and blocked the troops immediately dispersed in a very disorderly manner.
The sounds that rose included rushed steps, which went to and fro. There were also desperate cries and shouts among those who were dragged and tripped, as well as merchants who complained and cursed about their goods being stolen during the chaos.
In the end, people could only be seen on both sides of the street and at the entrances of alleys. Most of them tried hard to squeeze their bodies into corners while they revealed fearful or curious gazes. They stole a glance at Derek’s troops from time to time. Quite a number of them focused their gaze on Derek…
Just like old times.
With hundreds of years of amassed prestige and perception built based on what they had heard and seen about the Kroma Family, there were very few people who would find fault in the flag behind Derek, at least in that land.
They were few, but not non-existent.
Derek swept his gaze over the dusty and filthy streets, and away from two sneaky and unkempt rascals. Before he responded in any way, two of his personal guards who went ahead to scout the path and clear the road stepped forward. The guards whipped as well as beat the two men until they cried and howled, crawling and leaving the empty, spacious street.
Derek watched the sand that was stirred up by the whip as he pulled his face mask to cover his nose and mouth, as though nothing had happened.
The last time he was in Blade Fangs Camp, it was eleven years ago. The unpleasant atmosphere caused by the Desert War was long gone.
However, Blade Fangs Camp remain unchanged like old times.
It was chaotic, bloody, and filthy.
Even the few houses and fortresses that had clearly been burned into ruins recently did not appear out of place. It was very much like Western Desert.
When he was little, Derek’s father used to whip him violently after drinking. As a matter of fact, it meant that he was indirectly whipping the servant as well. The reason being, if he noticed any wounds on Derek’s body once he sobered up, he would torture and punish the servant in agitation and indignance for not having taken good care of their young master. Whenever he did that, he would tell Derek about how Western Desert used to look like: It was a free, wild, simple, carefree and strategic land without luxury. It was also filled with charming beauties from all countries, and good wine from the whole continent. Anything could be solved with a sword. That was Western Desert, their heaven.
Of course, Derek never saw the Western Desert depicted by his father.
In fact, he did not spend most of his childhood in his hometown. He only did when he reached adulthood.
One night when he was eight, Derek’s drunk father stumbled into his room as usual and said he wanted to “teach him something” while he could not even stand straight.
As always, his mother was notified of this by her servant, and she rushed over with the intention to take Derek away.
That was the only time his father was very drunk, very, very drunk.
That night, his drunk father did not hold a whip in his hand.
It was a sword, a very sharp sword…
Derek suddenly found the colors before his eyes turn a little red.
He adjusted his posture awkwardly, subconsciously pressed the back of his shoulder, and blinked away the blood red color in his eyes.
The scar he got from decades ago still seemed to throb faintly.
‘”Anything can be solved with a sword.”‘
As he pondered over what his father said, Derek snorted lightly.
He remembered when his wife shyly asked him about how he got the scar on his back on their wedding night. With a dark look on his face, he told her that he got it from the battlefield. His wife, still a teenager at that time, had an expression on her face that was a mixture of shock and admiration.
“My husband is a real warrior,” his wife said. She caressed the scar with her soft hands while her eyes were filled with pride and admiration.
When he thought of it, Derek tightened his grip on the reins.
Stupid battlefield… Stupid…
His breathing accelerated.
Derek had been on battlefields, and he had been wounded. After he left his hometown, his aunt and uncle insisted on raising him with Western Desert traditions. He actually had a few battle scars he could brag about wantonly, and even roguish soldiers who were deemed the most difficult to deal with would give him a thumbs up.
In the past, hot blood poured out from within, but it was not from that wound.
Derek touched the back of his shoulder while his face grew tense.
It was not even that shade of blood red.
Until now, he still did not know why he lied on his wedding night.
Plus, he did it to the closest person in his life.
However, it was already too late.
Just like that night.
Derek slowly moved his hand away from the scar.
He still remembered how the strangers broke into the castle after the matter happened: the warriors were violent and ruthless, and their armor, as well as helmets, were painted with four-eyed skulls. Before them, the personal guards of his family did not even dare to breathe.
It was also on that day that Derek met a lot of people. He was feverish and unconscious because of how heavily he had been injured.
There was the old duke who was unwell but had an awe-inspiring presence, his nephew who was his heir, the old Count Bozdorf who had carried Derek when he was a child, and his aunt and uncle who had rushed over from the east.
Of course, there was also the prince with the status of a noble, who was escorted by a great number of people.
His father, who was usually autocratic and stubborn, stood alone in the center of the hall while he faced the noblemen; he was unusually sober and pale. He looked down.
The final thing Derek remembered about the situation was that the prince had said something.
His father initially roared and charged at the prince angrily before he was blocked firmly by the fierce-looking and unfamiliar soldiers. He collapsed onto the ground as if he has lost his soul, and he looked helplessly in Derek’s direction.
He still remembered his father’s gaze.
As for Derek himself, he was buried in his aunt’s arms while tears fell from her face like rain, but she was extraordinarily unyielding. In the end, he got into a horse carriage and proceeded to leave the castle.
He left his hometown, along with his mother’s coffin.
He was gone for years.
Derek never saw his father again. During the age of chaos and war, his father perished when Eternal Star City was surrounded, and he died while the nation was in peril.
Just like… that prince.
The moment he thought of that, Derek opened his eyes abruptly.
At the end of the street, he saw the tall tower…
And the other prince who stood at the base of the tall tower.
“Of course, Your Highness, if you would like to have a drink. But you have no one familiar to bring you around. Please do not go to My House in the south… Let me tell ya—Ahem, let me tell you, that bastard innkeeper has an evil mind. Any unlucky chap who does not know the way things operate there would often become dead drunk in the tavern. When he wakes up, he would find himself lying naked in the brothel. Not only would he have lost his money, but there would also be an old man on top of him… Or, it could be even worse: he could end up naked in the Prison of Bones with a group of old men on top of him… Ahh… We have rescued countless young and old men ever since we served in the army…”
Thales yawned while he walked downstairs and listened to Snake Shooter, who enthusiastically introduced the people and customs of Blade Fangs Camp.
The Legendary Wing was not joking.
Early the second morning, Snake Shooter, who was responsible for guarding Ghost Prince Tower, brought a dozen freaks who were his subordinates to knock on Thales’ door. They expressed cautiously that the troops had assembled, and told the drowsy-eyed prince that it was “time to return home with honor.”
He watched the sun, which was not far away from the horizon, and he then looked at the man who tried to appear very obsequious but seemed awkward and pitiful. Thales sighed and finally decided that he should dismiss the cruel idea of asking Snake Shooter to go back and “confirm” with Roman whether the case was true.
The truth was that the valiant Baron Roman Williams, whose fearful reputation traveled far and beyond, was extremely… petty.
And he could not wait to… chase Thales out of here.
Just because of… a sword that was a gift?
Therefore, Thales, dressed in humble clothes and yawned continuously even after he had packed up (“Are you sure you do not want to give this a try? This is the best find in our small troop. Look at it again. It is in a dazzlingly beautiful red shade, with bright gold dust spread around the chest area. Even the cuffs and collars are inlaid with gold; how could it be tawdry? Even the gray mixed breeds like it very much! And our baron cannot bear to wear it either…” Snake Shooter used his psionic ability to make his clothes strike all kinds of different poses as he sought to play it up for the prince). Thales followed Snake Shooter and walked down the eerie stairs of Ghost Prince Tower. He could not hold back from complaining, “You know, according to the letter, the Legendary Wing used to be Prince Herman’s messenger. Imagine that man running around delivering letters with a straight face… Oh my, even the Star Killer looks cuter…”
When he thought of that, Thales subconsciously held Sentinel a little tighter in his arms.
After a few seconds, a hoarse voice traveled through the air and faintly replied, “But… that is a good face.”
Thales was instantly speechless.
It looked like his uncle, Prince Herman was also probably someone who judged others based on their looks alone.
Thales subconsciously turned around and glanced at the dilapidated Ghost Prince Tower. He suddenly felt a cold chill run down his spine.
To his front, Snake Shooter, who insisted on carrying his luggage, appeared to cherish each moment spent with the prince. He chattered away to the interested prince (even though Thales had only mentioned it in passing) about Western Desert and Blade Fangs Camp. “Oh, since you asked about it, I have to say, stay away from the mercenaries! I mean, even though they are sellswords, but they—Haih, those sellswords are crazy, lord knows if they were murderers before they escaped to the camp. They would do anything for money, unlike us. We are good soldiers who serve the kingdom. We are righteous, loyal, and responsible, plus we abide by the law and have legitimate statuses!”
He may have come to understand that the prince had a good temperament, hence, when Snake Shooter spoke, he appeared especially righteous, bold, stern, and just. Weird Flame and Mystifying Eyes who followed him subconsciously touched their heads and looked away.
While they spoke, they finally got out of Ghost Prince Tower and met the Stardust Unit, who were dressed in the same way—it was clear that they were soldiers who were part of the freak squad.
Snake Shooter seemed to be completely ignorant of his two subordinates’ expressions, and he waved excitedly.
“Also, Your Highness, since you asked about the taverns in Blade Fangs Camp…”
Spirit Blade, who was behind him, suddenly took out a wine bottle, and pushed the bottleneck into the area below her chest awkwardly and laboriously. She strode forward in an imposing manner, pulled an exaggerated smile that made it clear that she had practiced pulling it in front of a mirror the day before, and looked at Thales as if he were her prey.
“Ahem, although we cannot take you there, I have tried my best to bring you good wine. This is one of the best in Western Desert. Please remember how we treated you over the past few days… Also, please forgive us for the accident yesterday. Please believe me that I am not afraid of those big shots… It was just that the stuck up duke appeared too suddenly. You must know that for you, I would…”
Being confronted by Snake Shooter’s expectant face, Thales felt awkward as he tried to refuse the wine bottle, which Spirit Blade delivered enthusiastically across the vacant land. It was not easy, because he would have to avoid her breasts when he pushed the wine bottle away.
“No way, oh, I mean… Umm, thank you, but I do not drink wine…”
The awkward atmosphere came to an end very soon.
“Snake… Umm, Cap-Captain?”
Weird Flame’s confused voice sounded and caused Thales as well as Snake Shooter to stop what they were doing at the same time.
The lively noises everywhere disappeared in no time, and were replaced with galloping sounds, which resembled those of horses.
The expression of the members of the freak squad changed.
Thales, who was equally confused, shook off Snake Shooter’s hand, and saw a flag slowly rising from a fortress in the distance with his fairly good eyesight.
Beneath the flag were soldiers with shiny armor and formidable cavaliers. They moved in four well-arranged groups, heading towards Ghost Prince Tower in an orderly fashion.
There were more than a hundred horses.
The person in the lead held a flag that was embroidered with…
“The Single-winged Crow.”
Mystifying Eyes spoke in puzzlement while he was in the group.
Some thoughts appeared in Thales’ mind. He recalled what had happened to Dante’s Greatsword in the Great Desert.
“Is that the Shock Brigade called ‘Lightning Ravens’?”
Spirit Blade’s face grew tense.
“Oh my Sunset, I pray it is not them again!”
The freaks suddenly shrieked miserably, as though something had been ignited. Waves of grumbles rose and fell.
“Then what dirty money would we have left once we spend it on food, drinks, women, and accommodation…”
“F*ck them. They asked for sixty percent! They asked for sixty percent for the last batch of stock. Sixty percent!”
As the calvary drew closer, Snake Shooter frowned and comforted the freaks who were being blatant and noisy.
“All right, all right. So what if they are Lightning Ravens? We have the prince. They will not dare to…”
However, among them, Weird Flame who had been chewing on a piece of bread shook his head.
“No, look closely at their Crow Flag.”
There was a strange gaze in Weird Flame’s eyes as he munched on his bread and pointed at the big flag approaching them.
“It is embroidered with gold thread.”
The freaks fell silent, and their expressions froze.
A loud noise rose as the wine bottle in Spirit Blade’s hands fell to the ground and shattered to pieces.
Yet, it did not matter to anyone anymore.
“It cannot be…”
Snake Shooter, who carried the prince’s luggage on his back, took two steps forward comically while he opened his eyes wide to stare at the flag.
In the next second, Snake Shooter sucked in a cold breath.
“What in the absolute f*ck…”
Thales finally saw it clearly. Indeed, the flag had gold threads embroidered in it.
“Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, sh*t!” Snake Shooter cried out and turned his body around at the speed of lightning!
“Hurry up! Formation, formation! Put on your armor! Stop eating, Weird Flame! Spirit Blade, stuff your breasts into your armor! We cannot let them beat us in terms of presence!”
Spirit Blade, Weird Flame, Mystifying Eyes… All members of the freak squad stirred up a commotion as if they had seen a monster.
Thales looked puzzled.
“I do not understand.”
Snake Shooter quickly gave orders to his subordinates. He did not even have time for Thales’ enquiry.
“Go, notify the baron. Oh no—”
Thales cleared his throat to attract their attention.
“So, umm, there is a feud between you and the Lightning Ravens?”
After he kicked Mystifying Eyes, Snake Shooter finally registered what had happened. He turned around and immediately wore an obsequious expression.
“No, Your Highness. ‘Lightning Ravens’ is the nickname of the second troop of Crow Guards. The Lightning Ravens are all recruits, and they are all unreasonable as well as uncouth. They do not have many Raven Whistle Light Cavaliers either. We are not scared of them at all.”
Snake Shooter turned around and watched the knights draw in.
He raised his index finger and gritted his teeth, revealing envy, jealousy, and hatred on his face.
“But have you noticed how much they’ve spent from their equipment and attire to the cost of their horses? Almost all of them are Raven Whistlers… They are as good as Sir Williams’ personal guards who are part of the regular troops.”
Thales narrowed his eyes. It was just as Snake Shooter had mentioned. The knights’ gazes were sharp, and their movements swift. Their steeds were alert and had shiny fur. They were also fully equipped with all kinds of weapons including swords, longspears, bows, and arrows.
However, he saw more. There were at least ten flags behind the Single-Winged Crow Flag, which was held high.
Lightning bolts, spiders, greataxes… The flags bore different patterns and lines, and were only held at a shorter level than the crow flag that they followed. They moved forward slowly.
The prince furrowed his eyebrows.
“As for the troop bearing the flag with the golden lines…. Your Highness, those are not Lightning Ravens. They are the first troop of Crow Guards.”
There was fear and reverence in Snake Shooter’s eyes.
“On the Western Frontlines, we call them… Raven Leaders.”
Thales watched how the freak squad acted once they lost their composure, and he soon understood what they meant.
The troops who held the Single-Winged Crow Flag with the golden lines drew closer.
The cavaliers were split into three groups.
The first group surrounded them from both sides, spreading out and taking their positions as they occupied the borders and main roads of the vacant land. It looked like they were going to their sentry posts as per their wont.
The second group consisted of soldiers who held flags. They spread horizontally while they were centered around the crow flag with the golden lines. They took their positions with great familiarity, and they tried their best to show every single flag.
The third group looked like the group that was not to be provoked the most. They spread into two lines and approached the freaks. They stopped when they were about to close in on the freaks. They then turned around, spread out on both sides, returned to their horses, and faced each other. A road was formed from how they were standing.
As he watched their orderly movements, Thales could not help but recall the sentries and guards who were also probably like that in Renaissance Palace six years ago.
“F*ck. Is this necessary? They, they…” Mystifying Eyes grumbled, but his arrogant tone weakened subconsciously as he glanced around at the imposing cavaliers.
“… really look like hot sh*t.”
Snake Shooter watched the very imposing Raven Leaders before he looked at the freaks, who were standing in a disorderly manner. His face paled.
Behind the troops, the cavaliers, who stopped where they were, reined in their horses skillfully and gracefully and retreated to make way for a noble knight who appeared to be dressed in extraordinary attire.
The knight did not look old and was probably in his thirties. He had a determined and calm face, and he was wearing gold and black armor. His posture while he rode on the horse was straight and tenacious, while the presence he gave off was a big contrast to the camp’s chaos.
Thales sighed, pushed his way through the dazed freaks, and stepped forward. Snake Shooter was startled for a moment before he caught up to him.
When the noble knight saw Thales in the distance, he got off his horse in one clean movement. The cavaliers behind him also got off their horses, as though they had arranged for it.
The knight in his prime gave the reins and the saber around his waist to his subordinate. He gestured at them with his hand pressing downward, and walked alone on the pathway made by his subordinates into the freaks’ formation.
Snake Shooter straightened his body nervously and cleared his throat as he prepared to say something.
“Well, umm, this…”
However, the knight acted as if he did not see Snake Shooter. His gaze was focused on his destination as he walked past him.
A personal guard who stood near the left side watched Snake Shooter expressionlessly. Snake Shooter instantly turned as red as a tomato, and his words were stuck in his throat.
He raised his arm a few times, seemingly hesitant about whether he should stop the man. But he never plucked up the courage to step forth, and could only watch the knight go forward.
The noble knight did not care about anything else. He only walked straight forward until he stopped before Thales, who looked rather underdressed.
He watched Thales quietly. His eyes were clear, and no one could tell how he felt.
Thales frowned slightly as he looked closely at the picture of the Single-Winged Crow on the knight’s chest.
“My Honorable Prince Thales,” the noble knight said softly. His voice was calm and pleasant.
He clenched his right hand, which was clad in an iron glove. He then pressed it against his left chest and nodded his head slightly. His etiquette was executed nicely and perfectly.
“I am the heir of one of the thirteen counts who founded this country, and this title was passed down to me after it was conferred to my ancestor by the King of Renaissance. I am the custodian of the kingdom, monitor of Western Desert, the defender of Wing Fort.”
The knight in his prime looked up with a calm expression.
“I am Derek Kroma.”
It stirred up a small commotion among the freaks.
The knight named Derek took off the iron glove on his right hand, and extended his hand to Thales.
“At your service.”