Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
As he listened to the man’s self-introduction, Thales could not help but clench his fists discreetly.
‘Kroma. Of course…
‘I know this name,’ Thales thought to himself.
In the Battle of Eradication seven hundred years ago, Prince Tormond, who had yet to become the King of Renaissance, was ambushed and put under siege during the “Gust Battle”.
Even messenger crows that sent outbound distress signals were hunted down by the enemies’ falcons. Their hopes were crushed.
In their darkest hour, it was a military courier who was responsible for rearing messenger crows who found a wounded and weary messenger crow in the battlefield.
The military courier came from a humble background, but he was young and fearless. Under the hopeless gazes of the people, he carried the last wounded crow, risked his life by sneaking into the siege, broke through the blockade formed by falcons as well as bows and crossbows, and released it at the border of the battlefield just before he slipped and got caught.
A miracle happened.
The wounded crow that could not even soar up into the sky brought back military aid from Northlanders, reversed the situation, saved the prince, and brought about the “Reversal Gust Battle”, cementing its name for centuries to come.
After a few years, the lucky military courier who survived was given the title of a count the day Tormond was crowned king and Constellation was founded. He made his way into the Thirteen Distinguished Families, and his family name became one of the three most celebrated great family names in Western Desert.
This legendary story was summarized into a phrase that became the Kroma Family motto: Save a wing, save a king.
The image of the messenger crow, which was left with a single wing and risked its life along the military courier, was painted in books and sewn into flags as well as robes. It resulted in the name of their fortress, and the family crest of the Kroma Family for the past seven hundred years: the Single-Winged Crow.
Thales inhaled deeply as he looked at the knight before him.
Therefore, the hundred Raven Whistle Light Cavaliers he met in the desert, who were the so-called Lightning Ravens, including the heavy cavaliers who devastated the orcs face-to-face, and the baron who took sixty percent of the goods from the freaks…
All of them listened to his commands.
Thales revealed a smile and did not hesitate to shake the man’s hand.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Your Excellency.”
The Count of Wing Fort replied with a smile and let go of the prince’s hand gently.
“I understand that you have traveled far and experienced some twists and turns along your journey home, Your Highness. But, please rest assured.” Derek turned around and revealed the thirteen flags behind him. “According to the plan, from now on, my two hundred Raven Whistle Light Cavaliers, the one hundred men from the twelve families under the Wing Fort flag, and I will join your escort group to ensure your safe return to Renaissance Palace.”
Thales’ expression froze for a moment.
“I… am most grateful.”
Derek cast a glance at the freaks and immediately frowned.
“So, these are the men sent by Baron Williams as your escorts to protect you while you return home?
“Regular soldiers of Western Desert, twenty…”
The count swept his gaze over the men indifferently before he immediately said a number, “Twenty-five men to escort the prince?”
Snake Shooter’s face instantly turned pale.
He appeared to be very nervous, and he stuttered. “Well, um… no… ahem, I… We are the fre… We are Constellation’s… I mean, we are the baron’s…”
However, Derek did not even bother to look at him. He only looked at Thales and said, “Although the Baron of Blade Fangs Dune may be busy, I have to say with no offense intended that this is rather inappropriate, especially when he is the Royal Family’s immediate vassal.”
Snake Shooter grew anxious.
“It’s not that… The baron is…”
“I was the one who did not want the baron to disperse his military strength, and he had to follow the order.” The prince had to continue Snake Shooter’s words to get him out of his awkward situation. “After all, Blade Fangs Camp recently underwent a sizable hardship.”
Snake Shooter glanced at him in gratitude.
Derek remained quiet for a moment as he fixed his eyes on Thales.
The prince replied with a smile.
“I understand now.” After a few seconds, Derek glanced at his surroundings and revealed a smile.
“Indeed, he cannot disperse his military strength now.”
Snake Shooter still wanted to say something, but Derek had already turned around.
Snake Shooter could only turn his head and mumble about his embarrassment to Spirit Blade in exasperation.
The Count of Wing Fort raised his voice as he gave an order to his subordinate. “Tell Fagel and Kadi at the back to dispatch the second and third troops to join me in the journey to the capital. We cannot afford to forgo necessary propriety as the prince’s escort group as he returns to the kingdom.”
His voice was not loud, but his command was clear and strong.
Thales could not help but frown as he watched the military courier hurry away.
“Your Excellency, thank you for your offer, but it is actually not necessary…”
Derek turned his head abruptly.
“Please pardon my insistence, Your Highness.”
Thales was shocked by his seriousness.
“You have been away for six years before your return to the capital. In the eyes of the Constellatiates, this is of vital importance to show whether you return triumphantly or in abjection, Your Highness.”
Derek’s eyes were fixed on Thales as if he wanted to stare into his soul.
Thales was dazed while he looked at him. He could not read the count’s mind.
Derek narrowed his eyes.
“After all, even if we are very careful, you never know where threats may come from.”
As Thales faced the count who looked utterly serious, countless thoughts ran through his mind.
One thought that occupied his mind the most was what the Duke of Western Desert said the day before.
‘”The powerful and influential noble suzerains will want to outdo one another to appear before you. They will want to entice the prince who has just returned to the nation, try their best to get you on their side, and make you the vanguard in fighting against Renaissance Palace.
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.”‘
After a few seconds, Thales suppressed his unnecessary thoughts, and he nodded politely and amicably. “Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.”
Derek also nodded courteously and revealed a smile once again. “Thank you for understanding.”
However, the count suddenly changed the subject. “I heard that Duke Cyril has met with you?”
When Thales heard that name, he subconsciously twitched his eyebrows.
“Yes, it was yesterday when he came to… visit me.”
Derek glanced at him for a while before he smiled and said, “Oh, I understand how you feel.”
As he recalled his conversation with the Duke of Western Desert, Thales snorted in his heart.
However, Derek had seemingly read his thoughts. The young Count of Wing Fort laughed softly and said, “A long time ago, after my first conversation with the duke, it took me exactly a month to figure out what he wanted to tell me during that hour of teasing and mocking.”
Derek’s smile was rather resigned. “And that did not include the rhetorics and metaphors he used.”
‘Rhetorics and metaphors.’
Without realizing, Thales groaned as he thought of something.
He watched Derek in a manner that implied he could relate to what he said. “Is that so?”
Thales laughed quietly. “So you do understand him quite well.”
Yet, Derek’s response was out of his expectation.
“No, Your Highness.”
This time, Count Kroma replied quickly, but he did so in a half mocking and half serious manner, “I have never understood the duke.”
The master of the Single-Winged Crow, the young Count of Wing Fort narrowed his eyes. His gaze was profound.
In a dilapidated house in Blade Fangs Camp was a person supported by a cane and dressed in thick robes. He moved into the house slowly.
“When I asked Gotham to save you and provide a shelter for you, I did not intend for you to finish the reserve wine.”
A man was seated by a table in the poorly lit house, and he turned his head slowly. He clicked his tongue to express that he was not concerned with what the man said.
The man was wrapped in thick bandages from his shoulders to his limbs. He let out an unpleasant laugh.
“Oh, is that so? Pardon me, my savior.”
As he watched the guest, he lifted a wine bottle high up in a drunken manner.
“Fortunately, I’ve saved a bottle of wine. Look, here it is…”
In the next second, the man loosened his grip, and with a loud clatter, the wine bottle fell to the floor and shattered. The wine spilled all over the floor.
The guest could not help but frown as he watched the wine spill all over his boots and robes.
“Uh oh.” The man who was wrapped in bandages spread his arms and smiled wickedly. “Now, the last bottle is gone.”
In the dusky room, the guest fell silent for a while. He did not take a seat, instead he just faintly said, “Tomorrow, you’ll disguise yourself among our carriage fleet. Make your way out of the camp and go back.”
The man’s body stiffened. “Go back?”
He registered what he heard, and his blurry gaze grew clearer. “What about the mission? What about that little bastard?”
The guest tutted softly. His gaze was sharp, and his voice was dry as well as unpleasant.
“I’ve been to that place. He is well-protected. It is not possible anymore.”
The man was startled.
He mumbled and repeated his words. The drunken look on his face began to disappear as his expression grew malevolent.
“That damned little bastard…”
The man hit the table violently before he stood up and said to the guest through gritted teeth, “No, no, no. It is not possible for you, but it is for me! Give me the route and sentry arrangement. I can sneak into the place in the middle of the night—”
The guest rejected his request mercilessly.
“No, you cannot do that.”
The guest swept his gaze over the bandages on the man, and he gestured at them with his chin.
“You’re severely beaten up.”
The man shook his head impatiently and groaned before he waved his hand.
“This is nothing. Trust me, you should see the other man. He’s worse off compared with me.”
The guest in the dusky room did not reply. He only studied the bandaged man carefully.
“I would like to trust you.” The guest pressed his hands on his cane. His stare was chilling, and his tone was profound. “But, can I?”
His question caused the man to freeze up again.
The man stared at the guest through the gaps of the bandages over his eyes for a while.
A few seconds later, the man sighed and sat down heavily.
“Rest assured, no one will think it’s you.”
The man seemed to have figured something out, and he angrily said, “The Secret Intelligence Department, Dragon Clouds City, and that little brat who thinks he is smart assume that I work for the king, and when I say that, I mean ‘our’ king.”
The man rubbed his head desperately, and it only made him hiss. He appeared to be very troubled.
The guest rubbed the back of his hands and snorted lightly.
“But it is also the truth, is it not?”
The man exhaled heavily. He raised a finger and cast a very displeased glance at the man.
“Hey! You said you wanted that little brat to stay in Northland, but you never said that it has to be Dragon Clouds City.”
The guest stared at the man’s finger. He was not upset or angry, but his voice grew colder. “You went to King Chapman. It complicated matters.”
“I…” It looked like the man still wanted to defend himself, but his displeasure weakened as soon as his gaze met the man’s freezing gaze.
The man leaned back against the table and waved his bandaged hand.
“What other options did I have?” He seemed to suppress his anger with each word he said. “That old witch from Secret Room has long suspected me for a few years. Do you know how many men she has sent to get me after King Nuven died? As for the Secret Intelligence Department… hmph, if the prince falls into the hands of the people in Dragon Clouds City, they will only redouble their efforts in forcing me to rescue him again. By then, things will not be as easy as me being his babysitter.”
The guest did not reply and only listened to him quietly.
The man exhaled resentfully, and his breath was filled with gloom and suffering. He pressed his head and spoke in a slightly furious tone, “Only-only when the supercilious kinslayer king puts me under his protection just as King Nuven did will the Secret Intelligence Department and Secret Room stop making things hard for me…”
The guest glanced at the floor and tapped his cane. “But you messed it up.”
One sentence was all that it took to suppress the man’s discontentment.
The man’s breathing quickened. After a few breaths, he finally opened his mouth, and in an unpleasant voice, he said, “Hah, of course it is easy for you when you just stand around and talk.”
This time, his tone was filled with rage due to humiliation. “Why don’t you go confront the Star Killer with force and fight him with a sword for half an hour?”
It was clear that the guest was not convinced. He continued to size the man up before he let out a cold laugh.
“You look like you were scalded and burned, not slashed by a sword.”
The man was speechless, though he immediately raised his voice, “That’s not the point! And that damned mask… His skills are stronger than over ten years ago. It was not easy to deceive him by faking unconsciousness. I also had to enter the Great Desert with severe injuries while I traced his footsteps and hid. I was f*cking out of luck throughout the journey. I would either bump into a big group of orcs or an entire army…”
The man stood up. His grumbles came faster and grew more furious. “By the time I got here, got in touch with the kinslayer king’s men, and was about to do it… you bunch of damn Constellatiates… you stupid Southerners went on to have a f*cking internal strife! Do you know how hard it was for me to escape thousands of rioting armies and a mob? And that little bastard… He just suddenly disappeared from the camp, and now he has returned with the Legendary Wing’s unit? Damn it! Isn’t this supposed to be your territory?”
The man was furious as he spoke. He sighed laboriously and indignantly, pressing his hand against his own forehead.
The guest fell silent.
“I warned you before that once you reach Constellation’s sphere of influence, things would get complicated.”
The guest’s voice rose along with the sound made by his cane when it hit the ground.
“And now, the Secret Room, the Secret Intelligence Department, Black Sand Region, City of Faraway Prayers, oh, right, and Dragon Clouds City… People from everywhere… Each party has a reason to come looking for you for revenge.”
The man grasped his own head as he felt his headache grow.
The guest raised his eyebrows and said in a thought-provoking tone, “What should you do now?”
The man’s breathing quickened, but he immediately loosened his grip and snickered.
“It looks like I will have to make up five stories so that they will spare my life. Sh*t.”
His smile was resigned, but it also expressed his relief.
Both men did not speak for a while.
After a while, the guest asked abruptly, “Can you survive this, old friend?”
The man snorted coldly. “Of course.”
The man rubbed his hands and looked around disdainfully. “I have my own ways. Have you forgotten my nickname?”
Nonetheless, the guest’s next sentence made him frown.
“No, you can’t.” His tone was grave, and the meaning behind his words was cold.
The man was slightly puzzled.
However, he immediately felt the pain in his head grow stronger.
He realized that something was amiss.
In the next second, the man’s body shook, and he held on to the table behind him!
A wave of numbness and dizziness surged in him, making him lose control of his trembling arms and fall against the chair with a loud bang.
The man looked up in disbelief and glanced at the calm guest before him. Then, he glanced at the shattered wine bottle on the floor.
“You know, I kept the wine here for a reason,” the guest said faintly. “But you just had to let your tongue run loose.”
The man struggled to breathe and felt his energy as well as consciousness begin to fade away bit by bit.
‘It cannot be… I tasted the wine, tasted…’
The man opened his eyes wide and stared at the guest before him.
“As for your nickname… old friend, do you know something?”
The guest rubbed his cane and turned around indifferently as the man’s eyes lost their spark. He fell to the ground.
“I do not like ravens.”
The guest stared at the man who had stopped struggling. A freezing glare seeped out of his eyes.
“I’ve never liked them.”