Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
The Royal Guards kept moving forward without stopping. They passed through countless streets, went through Twilight District and Morning Star Region, and went to the center of Eternal Star City.
Thales felt downcast, and he was like a zombie being pushed to move forward following the others’ steps.
Even though there were only about twenty of them rushing ahead, without them realizing, at some unknown point of time, the police officers and public security team that passed by them gradually increased in number. It might seem like a coincidence, but they kept appearing nonstop. They also chased away and blocked off the obstacles and crowd on the road without Thales’ knowledge so that they could move through smoothly.
But Thales could not muster the interest to investigate them.
“Did you know that over the past few months, Mister Hicks has written me a few letters?”
Gilbert finally said something in the unbearable silent moment.
“He told me about your studies.”
He sounded slightly troubled in his low voice.
Thales snapped out of his daze.
“Oh, the Old Crow.”
The young Duke of Star Lake felt his spirits lift. He tried hard to tell himself that he should not bring unnecessary emotions into conversations and affect the people around him.
“Yes, I have not thanked him yet. It is all thanks to him for the matters that happened in Dragon Clouds City.” Gilbert sounded more excited when he felt the change in the prince. “He called to my attention that your progress exceeded the average person slightly.”
Thales, who forced himself to cheer up, tried hard to focus his attention.
Gilbert nodded. “Yes. Although that is a rare comment, it is still…” The Foreign Affairs Minister narrowed his eyes. At that moment, he seemed to be a bit absent-minded. “After I received the letter from my teacher, sometimes, I will think that maybe… maybe I-maybe we are all too impatient.”
Thales was confused as he looked at him. “About what?”
Gilbert sighed. Then, he said earnestly, “At least, in Eternal Star City, noble young masters at your age… care more about their appearances, attire, feasts, and girls.”
‘Appearance, attire, feasts, and girls, is that so?’
Thales paused for a moment in his thoughts. Then, he remembered his life in the past six years.
During those days, what did he care about?
What did he actually experience?
The duke could not help but have his mind wander, but he dragged his thoughts back to the present immediately.
When he sensed that Gilbert was going to advise him about something, Thales forced a smile and shook his head.
“You should return to a few years ago. At that time, Wya was still less than twenty years old.”
When he heard the familiar name, Gilbert Caso was stunned.
He saw the prince look at the northern sky and said in a relaxed manner, “But during those times in the north, what your son cared more was his sword… and me.”
Thales smiled and remembered Wya Caso’s every move, his voice, and his smile.
When he heard the sound of hooves around him and saw the Royal Guards that surrounded him, Thales suddenly realized that even if he was back in Constellation, in Eternal Star City, these Royal Guards who protected him… were so unfamiliar to him.
This made him miss the familiar faces who used to surround him.
Wya, Ralf, Putray, Genard, Willow, and the one who stole drumsticks and roasted rabbits…
They stayed with him from Eternal Start City to the birch tree forest, then from Broken Dragon Fortress to Dragon Clouds City.
They were with him from the past until now.
So, where were they now?
Thales could not help but become absent-minded again.
“I am glad that you favor him.”
Gilbert’s words pulled him back to reality.
“But regarding this topic…” Constellation’s Cunning Fox had a complicated look on his face, but he sounded proud. “You know that Wya has come back to Eternal Star City a few times when he was at Northland these past few years, yes?”
He saw Gilbert narrow his eyes slightly.
“I guess he did not mention to you that he was back to visit his fiancee?”
Thales was still immersed in reminiscing his old friends when he subconsciously repeated what Gilbert had said.
Thales’ expression changed drastically!
The prince turned around in shock.
He saw Gilbert watching him with a grin.
“Wya?” Thales opened his eyes wide and asked.
Gilbert nodded. Relief and sadness could both be seen from his eyes,
Thales opened his mouth in shock, and he kept staring at Gilbert.
‘Are we talking about the guy who is old-fashioned, serious, and stern like an old man, the guy who always pulls a long face, behaves very courteously, and stares at Ralf in dismay because he doesn’t know what to do with him, the Wya who always “uses too much strength”, and whose whole body is constantly stiff?’
Thales blinked subconsciously and tried hard to digest this news.
Gilbert only smiled faintly.
Thales took a deep breath and shook his head.
‘Wya, oh, Wya!
‘I didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect this at all!’
He felt amused, but he was also a little relieved.
‘I never expected you, with your big eyes and bushy eyebrows, would also have…’
Then, Gilbert said the next line, “That means, you’ve already reached the age as well…”
Thales’ expression changed again.
“Hack… cough…” The prince started to cough suddenly, and his figure on the saddle showed he was suffering so much that his back was hunched.
Gilbert’s old face stiffened up, so he continued and said, “You need to know that you have the duty to pass down the bloodline of the great kingdom.”
“Cough! Cough cough cough COUGH!” The prince’s coughs grew louder, so much so that it drowned out the Foreign Affairs Minister’s voice. The Royal Guards who were not far away from him by his sides turned their heads around to look at him strangely as well.
In the end, Gilbert could only shake his head in regret.
“Alright. There’s no need for us to talk more about this topic.”
Thales’ coughs suddenly disappeared, and his back became straighter than a flagpole.
Gilbert narrowed his eyes and watched Thales touch his chest while feeling at peace, even though he did not realize himself doing this. His face became resigned, and it was a face that said he knew just what was going on.
“Then, I hope that the following news will stir up your interest.”
It was only then that Thales suddenly snapped out of his daze. Naturally, he came to a realization as well.
Gilbert nodded gently, and his expression became serious again. Whenever he encountered a moment like this, Thales would think about Wya and his expression when he saw Ralf.
But what the Foreign Affairs Minister said next made the prince’s thought processes grave as well.
“The messenger crow we received just now was from the north.”
Thales frowned. “Are they from Putray and Wya?”
“No.” Gilbert shook his head. His face did not relax in the slightest.
The Foreign Affairs Minister spurred his horse and got closer. His voice was deep, and his words weighed tonnes.
“A few days ago, Dragon Clouds City completed their war mobilization.”
‘Dragon Clouds City.’
When he heard this familiar noun, Thales clenched his fists
Gilbert’s words still continued,
“Their expeditionary force of ten thousand people has been assembled, and now, they are ready to head toward the City of Faraway Prayers to join the war. They will march west to fight against the Alliance of Freedom.”
Thales frowned deeply.
At that moment, all the memories about Northland came back to his mind—war, forced marriage, mobilization, and everything that happened on the day of state affairs hearing in Dragon Clouds City.
Ten thousand soldiers.
Thales tried to recall his impression regarding Dragon Clouds City.
To Dragon Clouds City, that was not a lot, but not very few as well.
“Who is the noble leading the troops?”
The Duke of Star Lake’s expression turned grim, “Who will lead this war?”
Gilbert nodded and reported the news exactly as what he heard.
“The suzerain of Hunting County and Origami County, Count Kahn Karkogel, will be the deputy commander of the expeditionary forces of Dragon Clouds City.”
Thales’ mind suddenly came up with the firm and persistent face of the one-armed count when he turned up at the Hall of Heroes.
“As expected, the general is the one who can fight the most from Dragon Clouds City, which is …”
When he said this, Thales was a bit stunned.
“You mentioned ‘deputy’ commander just now?”
The prince looked at Gilbert in surprise.
Gilbert pursed his lips and nodded.
‘If Karkogel was just the deputy commander, that means…
The disbelief and surprise on Thales’ face became greater.
Gilbert said sternly, “According to the latest news, this is the first massive expedition from Dragon Clouds City after they have been silent for twenty years…
“It will be led by the young Archduchess Walton, who will be dressed in martial attire and will be the general leading the troops. She will personally go to war.”
‘Personally go to war…’
At that moment, Thales was rooted to the spot.
Meanwhile, Gilbert did not say anything as well. He just looked at Thales silently, waited slowly, and watched how the prince responded.
A familiar figure seemed to appear again in front of Thales.
That figure sobbed and asked him in the dark whether she could run away.
She was thin, weak, frail, suffered from injustice, helpless, timid, lonely, grabbed his arms, hid behind him, and always trembled.
“Oh… I see…”
The Duke of Star Lake schooled his expression while he was still in a daze. He nodded subconsciously and mumbled to himself.
His expression was stiff, but he forced himself to let out a muffled cry of surprise.
But no one knew that at that moment, he felt… incredibly peculiar.
It was a blend of different feelings, and it was indescribable.
But at the next second, the figure in his mind turned around and showed him a familiar yet different look.
That face tried to hold tears. Her forehead was wet with sweat, but she still tried hard to pout.
She was stubborn, obstinate, persistent, determined, firm, and strong.
She stood before the highest seat, raised her arms, and shouted in front of thousands of forces.
Hundreds would respond to the command.
It seemed like a long time had passed.
His silence lasted for so long that Gilbert felt that he could no longer hold back his urge to speak.
“So, they were successful,” Thales said airily and tried to forget the unnecessary scenarios while he forced himself to think from a more practical side.
“Roknee from the City of Faraway Prayers, Lecco of Defence City and Walton from Dragon Clouds City. They form the Alliance of Three Eckstedtian Cities. In the end, they stood on one front.”
Thales’ tone was still hollow, but his mind was slowly getting clear, and his brain started to function.
“They are going to face the unrest in the west caused by Lampard.”
When the Duke of Star Lake thought about this, he took a deep breath and raised his head.
“What about us?”
If it were others, they might be confused when they faced a question like this, but Gilbert knew what he wanted to ask.
The Foreign Affairs Minister slowly released a breath.
“As you can see, since you are back now and the chaos in the Western Frontlines has calmed down as well…” Gilbert’s lips curled up slightly. “Regardless of whether they are the regular soldiers of the royal family working under Baron Williams or the recruits enlisted by the suzerains of the Western Desert after they spent a lot of effort in doing so, there is no reason to stay in the desert and waste time and energy in patrolling the area anymore.”
Thales took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“So, after they lost the restraints placed on them by Constellation, the Alliance of Freedom, who is weak, will have to guard their territory alone. They have to face the three strong cities of Northland, which is about half the size of Eckstedt…”
The Duke of Star Lake opened his eyes. This time, he became calm and serious. “The ending of the war is certain. The Alliance of Freedom is doomed.”
Gilbert did not say anything. He just nodded and admitted the truth.
After a few seconds, Thales smiled and became happy.
He smiled as he looked at Gilbert. “Now, it is King Chapman’s turn to worry about this. I have escaped. Constellation has retreated as well. Hence, Lampard lost his leverage and his excuse.
“He can no longer use Constellation as his sword and force his vassals to listen to him.”
Thales thought of the defeated look on the aggressive kinslayer king’s face, the gloom he felt when he felt that he had lost his homeland was gone. He even felt that the air he breathed had become much more for his lost homeland was suddenly gone, and he even felt that it was much easier to breathe.
“On the other hand, once Dragon Clouds City joins Roknee, the worries of the City of Faraway Prayers will be solved.
“Black Sand Region will have one more enemy, so the force in opposing the king will only keep increasing.”
Thales snorted and shrugged lightly on the horse.
“Lampard has lost on both sides.”
He could even imagine his old opponent having a gloomy face while he tried to control his temper while his breath made his beard move as he glared…
The Foreign Affairs Minister was hesitant as he spoke, and this attracted Thales’ attention. “In truth, Your Highness, a few weeks ago, after you ran away from Eckstedt and the news of the day of state affairs hearing just spread to us…”
Gilbert looked at him and frowned slightly. He seemed as if he wanted to say something, but refrained from doing so.
Thales felt his heart sink.
The Foreign Affairs Minister let out an unnatural breath.
“At that time, King Chapman rushed back to Black Sand Region.”
Gilbert tugged the reins and looked into the distance with a grave look.
“In just a few days, Chapman the First visited almost every vassal who opposed him.”
Thales frowned hard.
The prince suddenly thought about the “visitation” by King Chapman to Dragon Clouds City, regardless of whether it was the time about King Chapman visiting him or the Hall of Heroes. Then, he suddenly felt that something was bad.
Gilbert sighed slightly when he observed Thales’ expression,
“The information gathered by the Secret Intelligence Department is limited…”
Gilbert kept a straight face and told the truth when he saw the unpleasant look on Thales’ face when he had that bad feeling that something was going to happen.
“But it is clear that as the King asked them to recruit their army to march west, the Mendes and Dawnson Family who had always refused to pay taxes in Black Sand Region surrendered first. They announced that they want to return under the flag of the king. Yet, the truth remains unclear.”
Thales felt disappointed.
“Maybe the Ika Family who stays nearest to Reformation Tower under Lampard’s supervision is worried that Archduke Trentida and Lampard communicated secretly. Without waiting for the king to look for them, they withdrew the calls opposing tax payment and voluntarily delivered the grain tax to Black Sand City for this season.”
The prince’s grip over the reins tightened with each passing moment, and he could not help but straightened his back.
However, Gilbert still continued to sigh.
“After a day, the old Count Peruno who was respected by everyone, who had a close relationship with the former Archduke of Black Sand, and who opposed King Chapman the most sudden suffered a relapse from his old illness.”
Thales could start to hear his own breathing.
“He lied on the bed sick and cannot assume office anymore. So, Peruno’s son took over the authority of ruling over the territory. He amended his father’s policies, went out of the city on his own and welcomed King Chapman warmly while he was on his patrol.”
Under the Duke of Star Lake’s gaze, which could almost be considered as a stunned state of surprise, Gilbert said unhappily, “And the last two families who had received their territories from the late Eckstedtian kings struggled desperately and refused to open the door to welcome the king… They received punishments.”
Thales gritted his teeth.
Gilbert nodded, and his eyes showed a wary look that was rarely seen on Constellation’s Cunning Fox.
“Under the protection of the four big families, King Chapman’s army attacked the city and smeared blood as a declaration of war.
“A total of two castles… The Fire Knight personally led the army. Black Sand Region’s army defeated them easily.
“They won on the first day, and took over the city within three days.”
Gilbert’s solemnity and wariness reached their peak.
“According to the ancient ceremony of the Northlanders, they’ll hang the heads of those who are against the king’s order at the gate to warn others of the consequences of going against the king.
“The king even stripped away the title of the count and viscount in the execution field. He also demoted their descendants into commoners.”
While listening to Gilbert, Thales was almost unable to adjust his expression. It was as though Gilbert’s every sentence brought with it the ice and snow from Northland.
Gilbert slowly sighed.
“That is not all. On that day, King Chapman used the prestige he gained after he conquered the two cities, and he went against the precedent to anoint a few new nobles who came from lowly birth. Meanwhile, none of the minor or major nobility in Black Sand Region dared to meddle io this.”
Thales slowly relaxed his body, and his arms were pressed on the horse.
There was no way anyone could add to the shock in his heart.
Gilbert shook his head. “Up to this date, there are only a few small families who still loudly declare that they refuse to yield to the king out of either morals or benefits, but they live near the border of Black Sand Region and do not affect the situation much.”
But Thales did not let him continue speaking.
“He did it.”
The prince stared at the northern sky blankly, and he seemed to see the ghastly and cruel king.
Gilbert was worried as he observed Thales’ expression, so he could not help but cough.
“To the region, he did indeed win.”
Constellation’s Cunning Fox squeezed out a smile. Then, he changed his tone from fear and wariness to energetic.
“But to the outside forces, regardless of whether they are Reformation Tower or Prestige Orchid Region, when they received the news, they immediately strengthened their defenses while they sent out more soldiers to the borders of Black Sand Region…
“Meanwhile, emotions ran high among the other Archdukes in Eckstedt. They sent armed forces to suppress Black Sand Region. They came from the City of Faraway Prayers, Beacon Illumination City, Elaphure City, and Glacier Sea. Many Northlanders even questioned Chapman publicly on the origin of his throne…”
Gilbert smiled as he spoke, but Thales could sense something off in his laughter.
“Black Sand Region has incited public anger, and King Chapman can do nothing about the situation alone. The economy is also unstable under his administration…”
But the prince interrupted him. “It is too late.”
The teenager straightened his back under the cloak while he remained in the crowd, but he had his head lowered while he remained quiet. “Chapman Lampard… Perhaps a lot of people do not recognize him as the King of Eckstedt.”
Thales pursed his lips tightly. When he imagined himself fighting against Lampard on the spot, he felt as if the heavy pressure while he faced the king had turned physical and pressed against his shoulder.
“But now, he has become the King of Black Sand Region.”
Gilbert froze for a moment, and he had nothing to say.
The second prince looked at the sky and sighed before he closed his eyes.
“I told them this before in the past. I told them about this before in the Hall of Heroes… But in the end, they still do not understand.”
Thales opened his eyes. He did not look at the clear blue sky above him. Instead, he stared at the layers of vague black clouds that were in the distance and seemed to be tumbling toward them.
“They do not know that the tide coming toward them is not something that armies and money can easily stop.”
Gilbert was stunned for a moment.
The prince gritted his teeth and frowned. “And this is only the beginning.
“Chapman Lampard. He will only become stronger, greedier and more…”
Thales stopped for a while to just breathe indignantly through his nose.
Gilbert seemed as if he could not bear watching Thales react this way. “Your Highness, you do not have to worry so much. Regardless of how strong King Chapman becomes, we can still…”
But Thales shook his head.
“No. Not us.”
He stared at the black clouds at the horizon.
“Killing, stealing, appointing new vassals… What King Chapman is doing now… is just like a small spark, but it is unstoppable.”
Gilbert heard the words of the prince, and he fell into contemplative silence.
“And in the end, it will burn the entire Northland.” Thales lowered his head and looked ahead of him. The serious look in his eyes reached its peak.
Right at this moment…
The sound of the bell could be heard everywhere.
Thales and Gilbert shuddered together.
This sound of the bell rose airily but came in waves. It lasted for a long period of time, and it was grave. It shook everyone’s hearts.
It passed through the ground and the air until it reached the depths of the earth and the top of heaven.
The grave echoes remained in the air for a long time.
The neighs from the horses made many Royal Guards frown, and they looked at each other at a loss.
Only Mallos who was at the forefront remained calm, just like always. He pulled on the reins, stepped on the stirrup, and moved forward steadily.
While he listened to the roars in his ears, Thales turned to Gilbert slowly. He seemed to have sensed something.
Gilbert had overcome his initial surprise, and he slowly nodded at the prince.
“The Bell of Constellation.”
A thought struck Thales’ mind.
Gilbert sighed. “The last time it rang, it was during…”
Thales had his memories flood into his mind. He said in a dumbfounded manner, “Six years ago, during the National Conference.”
But his sentimental reminiscence did not last long as the team turned into another street very quickly to get on another main road.
And it was only at this moment that Thales noticed that at some point of time, they had passed through countless streets. The people around them had also gradually gone further and further away. They were separated one hundred steps from them by the public security team which had gradually increased in number, and they just stayed where they were while they watched with curious faces and gazes.
A countless number of soldiers, guards, police officers, and public security team members stood at the front in an orderly manner. They either teamed up to maintain order or acted like a wall to separate the road from the civilians while they waited for the guest to arrive.
On the other side, the road the Royal Guards treaded had become a wide and smooth road.
Naturally, at the end of the main road, the most attractive thing was…
Thales breathed in a daze as he slowly raised his head.
He saw it.
The classical mottled color, the continuous stairs, the heavy black palace walls, the magnificence it exuded as it rose from the ground, the air of age which it had accumulated over centuries, and the dignity it had as it looked down on everything.
This was a huge pyramid with a flat top, and it had appeared countless times in his dreams. It appeared before his eyes again abruptly, just like that, even though he had been expecting it, just like a giant that walked silently but could blot out the sky.
It was overwhelming. but silent.
Thales stared at the huge palace in front of his eyes blankly for a long time before he came out of his daze.
Once they passed through the passage guarded by the palace guards, the Royal Guards slowed down and made their horses tread softly.
Then, Mallos raised his hand up high. All twenty-five Royal Guards pulled back their hoods together.
They revealed their silver helmets, and they reflected the sun.
Flag Bearer Hugo even lifted the Nine-pointed Star Flag high so that the flag fluttered in the wind.
In the distance, the crowds that were separated behind the line started to cause a ruckus.
Countless eyes shot to the twenty or so riders, and they started to discuss among themselves.
Thales turned his head around with complex feelings. He looked at the normal residents that were separated on both sides of the road, looked at the soldiers and guards who stood straight around them, and in the end, to the heart of the kingdom before him, which was separated from him by palace walls.
Nobody knew the state of his mind right now. Nobody could describe how he felt now. Nobody could describe his current mood.
He could only remain quiet while he was lost in his thoughts.
He seemed to be deep in thought while he felt that there was something missing.
When Thales’ team arrived at the walls of Renaissance Palace, the dark gigantic city defense crossbows and Mystic Guns changed direction under manual force working on the hinges. The sentries stood on standby, and their killing intent was awe-inspiring.
A noble who wore similar attire like Mallos was surrounded by a team of soldiers while he walked over from the palace. He raised his right arm high to Thales’ team and showed his palm.
In a moment, the twenty-five Royal Guards pulled on the reins together as Mallos made a hand gesture. Glover and Doyle took a step forward and stretched out their hands to stop Thales and Gilbert’s horses.
At this time, they showed stern faces, and their attitude was very awe-inspiring.
“We, twenty-five Royal Guards, obeyed the king’s order in escorting an important person.”
Mallos’ voice could be heard on the road before the palace gate. It bounced back from the wall of Renaissance Palace and resounded at the spacious road.
“The Duke of Star Lake, the Prince of Constellation, the first in line to the supreme throne and Nine-Pointed Star royal crown, the noble Prince Thales Jadestar has now returned.”
Once the words were spoken, everything fell silent.
Regardless of whether they were the guards in front of the palace gate, sentries on top of the palace gate, or the public security team members on the road, all of them fell silent.
Only Mallos’s clear and calm voice could be heard everywhere for a period of time.
The noble who had blocked Mallos in front of the palace gate straightened his body and moved forward.
The noble who was dressed in the attire of a Royal Guard looked at Mallos and said coldly, “Crown?”
Mallos slowly struck his horse to move forward. He then faced the ferocious city defense crossbows in an unperturbed manner.
He narrowed his eyes and spoke softly. His voice was very faint.
Thales was slightly stunned.
Time seemed to have stopped for a moment.
Then, the noble who guarded the palace gate nodded. He turned around and waved.
Under the loud and deafening rumbles, the steel chains started to move.
The dark palace gate in front of Thales quivered violently, and it started to move slowly under the great force, as though the gate wanted to clear the thick dust that had accumulated on the gate.
It tore through itself and showed the real appearance of Renaissance Palace.
It turned gold under the setting sun.
It was just like six years ago. During the moment Thales became the prince, the light of the setting sun which shone the Renaissance Palace also turned it into a bright red color.
But this time around, Thales only raised his head dazedly under the shining sun.
He watched the dazzling gold light shine brightly on the outer wall of Renaissance Palace.
Yet, only total darkness was reflected.
The darkness seemed to be bottomless.