Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Dragon Clouds City, West-Express Avenue.
“I… I’m here!” A young fellow dashed into a butcher’s shop. He leaned against the wall, panting heavily. “The Prince of Constellation is in town, so I went—”
“Went to look for your woman again?” The butcher snapped, exposing his lie. “That’s why you’re late again?”
“Hey! What are you saying… I was just sending her some gifts.” the young fellow’s face turned red. “And Cecilia is not my wo… not yet…”
“You’re a halfwit, Kevin,” Seemingly speaking from experience, the butcher gave Kevin a look of condescension. “Sending her bits of this and that once in a while is not enough. You have to declare your love. Declare. Love. Do you know that?!”
Hearing this, Kevin started scratching his head, feeling frustrated. “Don’t you know she has a scary dad with a weird nickname, Big Leather Belt or whatever… I heard he was in the Glacial Sentries. He’ll never allow his daughter to marry a… a…”
“A dirt-poor errand boy from the plebeians’ union?” The butcher hacked a pig shin in half.
Kevin clapped as he pulled a long face. “Yeah, that’s why!”
“Then, act like a man. Go meet him in person, talk to her father face-to-face!” The butcher grimaced, slamming his cleaver into the chopping block.
Kevin was shaken. He opened his mouth and started stammering.
But eventually, with a look of defeat, he swallowed the words he intended to say, ‘I’m scared.’
“Hmph, wimp,” the butcher grumbled, feeling disappointed. “Forget it then… Anyway, how’s your errand?”
“Here it is.” Brooding, Kevin handed him a crumpled note. “Chief Gleeward’s reply, allegedly.”
The butcher took the note and watched the young fellow leave, still sulking.
“What a carefree life you have,” a joyful voice sounded at the back of the room, “Butchering, doing business and giving relationship advice to some silly boy.”
The butcher’s expression stiffened a little.
He turned around and swung the door shut.
“Paying me a visit at a time like this.” Gu, the butcher from the Far East turned away from the door. “Aren’t you worried that Black Sword may be back?” he said to a figure in the dark corner behind him.
“The fake intel was your idea after all.”
A young man in white—Raphael Lindbergh—stepped out of the darkness with a faint smirk on his face.
Like a wolf on the steppe, Gu grew wary in an instant. His eyes were downcast.
‘He just waltzed in here, brimming with confidence. Looks like he really knows how to cover his tracks, one that will even keep him hidden from Black Sword’s frighteningly godlike senses, and that guy can detect and track down the slightest of movements—even those of insects and small animals from hundreds of meters away.’
Gu narrowed his eyes.
Raphael did not respond to his statement earlier, instead he said the following with a hint of mockery in his voice, “What, were you a relationship consultant before you double-crossed the Raven Guard? Must have accumulated lots of experience, eh?
‘Raven Guard’. These two words hit Gu.
Despite years of training and practice to retain total control over his emotions as well as restrain his physical response, Gu could not help but have his heart freeze slightly, and his blood pump faster.
He looked up at Raphael and their eyes met.
Their gazes were as calm as a lake, although they were both aware of the underlying enmity beneath their exchange.
“Since the union of Mane et Nox and Constellation, both we and the Secret Intelligence have been grappling with one another behind closed doors. Each party knows its opponent’s tricks and modus operandi.
“However, the question is, where do we start?”
As his master’s words rang in his ear, Gu became increasingly alert.
“It’s interesting; watching these folks go about their lives,” Gu glanced over his empty storefront lazily, cleaning up the table in an unhurried manner. Most people were off to see the Prince of Constellation, joining in all the hubbub.
“You know,” he said meaningfully, “after almost a lifetime of living in despair and darkness, one does desire to see the light of hope.”
“I thought someone with your past would be accustomed to ‘interesting’ things.” The corner of Raphael’s lips curled upwards.
“Kevin is the true embodiment of slum life,” said Gu as he gave a cheerless chuckle and a look of intrigue. “Wealth, background, status—he has none of those.
“The only thing he owns is love; his beloved. He’s always pictured her as the most beautiful, most precious presence in the world.
“He thinks of her with a smile, with bliss, with hope.
“But most importantly, he is given the right to seek happiness and a life goal despite the challenges.” Gu directed his stare at the slightly-bemused Raphael. “That boy is living a life.”
Rays of sunlight shone into the shopfront and on Gu.
His eyes were calm and his voice was flat, “Compared the both of us who live like maggots in the shadows of secrecy, he is unbroken and complete.
“Don’t you find it interesting?”
Still veiled in the dark, Raphael listened patiently to him.
“But once a person succumbs to joy, he has given in to weakness,” he said as his smile persisted, “Just like the things that made you vulnerable. Think about it, King Yao—”
“I don’t need to be strong,” Gu snapped in a monotonous voice.
“I just need to settle this deal with you people,” he said firmly.
‘”Unlike your seniors, who each thrive with his impeccable skills or her resourcefulness, you are a dagger in the eternal darkness, forever hidden. Your power will only be witnessed when you strike, therefore you must avoid unnecessary conflicts at all cost. Instead, you prepare yourself for your most impactful, deadliest, final blow.'”
Recalling his master’s words, Gu’s expression dimmed.
‘A dagger in the dark.
‘Waiting to strike.
Gu inhaled deeply as his face became expressionless.
Raphael had been watching him like a hawk the entire time. He laughed softly.
“Rest assured that our intel is always accurate,” Raphael said, feeling amused. “An attempted assassination on His Highness’ life at the fortress is their most often used tactic… You’ll certainly find what you’re looking for.”
Gu remained silent as he nodded.
Raphael’s smile broadened and he lowered his head.
“The prince and his escorts have entered the city. They are in Heroic Spirit Palace as we speak.” He then moved on to his intended topic. “What have you got?”
Gu held his stare and unfolded the note delivered by Kevin. At the same time, he glanced over the text.
“According to the local union, the monster’s location is confirmed.” Gu put down the note. “Although we’re not sure what you’re planning to do…” he muttered.
Raphael chuckled and nodded.
“Oh, don’t you worry,” he said in a peculiar manner, “We fight for justice, don’t we?”
“Purging our cities of the calamity, devoting ourselves to the safety of the human race.”
With a snort, Gu turned and shuffled away.
Unaffected, Raphael shook his head and chuckled.
He averted his gaze to the window, and what lay beyond—Heroic Spirit Palace on the mountain.
He was momentarily lost in reverie.
He could not help but recall what Gu said about Kevin the pauper.
‘The only thing he owns is love—his beloved.
‘He’s always pictured her as the most beautiful, most precious presence in the world.
‘He thinks of her with a smile, with bliss, with hope.’
His eyes dimmed as he slowly shut his eyes.
Thales stared at the longsword on the floor in cold sweat.
‘What’s the deal with this situation?’
‘Slit my own throat?’
The faces of Nicholas and Shiles flashed across his mind. However, right now, they appeared to be infuriatingly sardonic in his eyes.
‘”For the sake of Your Highness and King Nuven’s best interest, His Majesty implores you to cooperate with him in the execution of his plot of vengeance. The hunter has sharpened his knife. Traps and snares are in position. The fate of your prey is sealed.”‘
The prince lifted his head and looked at the old man, his supposed ally in disbelief.
King Nuven’s steely stare was pinned against him.
‘Who is really the prey and who is really the hunter?’
He vividly remembered explaining his alliance with King Nuven to Count Gilbert back in Mindis Hall.
‘Now it just seems like a joke.’
“Go on,” Nuven the Seventh urged with a soulless voice, “show us your valor and pride as the descendant of the Jadestar Family…
“An eye for an eye!”
Thales’ eyes were fixed on the sword. His breathing accelerated as his head spun.
He took a glance at King Nuven again, but the coldness and hatred in the old man’s stare persisted.
‘What should I do?
‘There’s no time for doubt and reasoning.’
Facing such a predicament, Thales’ eyebrows wriggled uncontrollably.
‘What should I do?’
King Nuven wanted his life.
Thales squeezed his eyes shut, clenching his fists.
“What now?” A peculiar sounding voice emerged among the five archdukes. “As a Jadestar and successor of the Oath Keeper, do you not have the guts to sacrifice yourself as an act of atonement?”
“Why are you even here? For a tour?!”
The person who spoke leaned forward and Thales finally saw the first archduke.
Sitting on the left of Nuven the Seventh was a bearded man. He was a brawny and boorish-looking man in his forties. He was also crudely dressed and atop his attire, he wore a triangular-shaped brooch with a circle on it. The man was just glaring at Thales with absolute disdain and uncontainable hostility:
“If you don’t have the balls to do it…
“Then, kneel before us and beg.
“Little Constellatiate bastard,” the bearded man spat.
Thales’ clenched teeth tightened even more.
In the meantime, another archduke leaned over. The firelight illuminated his face and his bowl haircut.
He was a huge man, also in his forties but appeared slightly younger than the bearded man. He had rather angular facial features and a pointy chin. There were glowing images of swords and blades sewn onto his garments.
“Perhaps those lofty Constellatiates thought that,” the man with the bowl cut coldly added, “sending a noble-born, seven-year-old brat to our rurally land would be the biggest honor and privilege bestowed upon us, barbaric Northland men.
“Perhaps that Kessel was thinking, ‘Wasn’t it just a prince that we killed?'” The man with the bowl cut gave a chilling grin, purposefully adding fuel to the fire. “‘But see, my son is here to deal with you, goosey Northlanders!'”
The tension heightened.
Thales’ breathing continued to hasten as he whipped his head up. His stares, which were directed at the archdukes became increasingly searing and intimidating.
“Oh, are you mad?” The third archduke leaned towards the firelight. He was an aging suzerain, about fifty to sixty years old, bitter-faced and bald. What was left of his hair was a clump beside each ear. He wore a copper circlet around his forehead, and a robe embroidered with a chunk of chain.
“Say, are you going to man up and pick up that sword or not?” said the bald suzerain sharply. “Whatever you want to do with it—disembowel yourself or come at us…
“Either one is much more effective than just glaring at us, am I right?”
Thales took a deep breath as his eyes swept over the bearded man, the man with the bowl cut and the bald suzerain.
Meanwhile, Nuven the Seventh remained unmoved.
The six men seated in the stone hall were now glowering at the boy and the sword on the ground before him.
Bearing through their stares, Thales felt a burst of anger in his chest.
‘Is this what they had planned all along?’
Betrayed, his bewilderment gradually turned into fury and resentment.
‘I need a plan.
A rough idea suddenly flickered at the back of Thales’ mind.
And he looked up abruptly.
“Very well.” Thales’ pants grew harsher. There was a refusal to give in, displeasure and also indignation in his words. “Blood for blood… that is rather fair…”
Under all their gazes, which were either filled with rumination, derision or aloofness, Thales slowly bent down.
He picked up the sword from the ground.
‘Once again, I’m faced with such a situation.
‘And once again, I’m faced with such a choice.
‘I’m really getting fed up.
‘This bunch of bastards.’
His gaze gradually gained a determined edge.
‘Despite all of this, I will not die here.
‘I will not.’
With a burst of strength in his arms, Thales lifted the sword.
‘Hold on… this sword!’ He was shocked.
‘Why is it so heavy?’
The sword slipped off Thales’ hands the moment his attention slipped a little, because he was unprepared.
The longsword fell heavily on the floor, and the echoes from the crash lingered in the air endlessly.
When they saw this, the five archdukes burst into laughter.
It was as though they were watching a monkey performing in the streets.
“Relax, boy!” the bald suzerain said with a profound tone, “Take a good look. This is the weight of the swords in Northland.”
Thales closed his eyes and took two heavy breaths.
‘It’s so heavy.
‘Compared to the heavy wooden sword I used to practice with Jines when I was in Mindis Hall, this suzerains’ sword is slightly heavier.’
Ignoring the archdukes’ mocking glances, Thales took a deep a breath and grabbed the sword’s hilt once more with a determined expression.
This time, he used both hands, and only then did the sword not fall from his hands.
Thales lifted the longsword with great effort.
The tip of the blade created an unpleasant, loud noise as it was dragged across the tiles on the floor.
“Come on, work a little harder…” The man with the bowl cut sneered at Thales. “You’ll soon be able to lift it up to your neck!”
The mocking laughter from the archdukes grew even louder.
King Nuven’s expression was as cold and aloof as ever.
It was if he was waiting for Thales.
The second prince gritted his teeth, and with both his hands, he dragged the sword with great effort. Finally, with much difficulty, he brought the longsword in front of him.
He panted harshly while he held the heavy sword in his hand, raising his head to look at the five suzerains.
“Remember this well, boy. Never use the forces you have behind you to threaten a Northlander,” the bearded man spat fiercely. “We have nothing to fear. This is the way of Northland.
“We are not afraid of that cowardly father of yours or that weak country of yours that’s behind you.”
Thales gripped the sword and his brows were tightly furrowed. He was gradually increasing the strength in his hand.
Although there was clearly nothing for him to fuss over, the man with the bowl cut, who had been mocking him the whole time said in an alarmed manner, “Do not worry, Your Highness. We will definitely stop you before you cut your own throat. This is Eckstedt, a small, backwater country. How would we have the audacity to let the descendant of the mighty Empire and future leader of Constellation bleed here? Hahahaha… We are—”
“You are so annoying!”—Thales cut him off coldly—”Bowl Cut!”
The archduke by his side could not help but let a chuckle escape from his mouth.
The man’s words died in his throat as he shut his mouth and glared at Thales.
“Did you not want my life to compensate for Prince Moriah’s?” the Prince of Constellation asked faintly, “This is too easy a matter to solve.”
“Then what are you waiting for?” the bald suzerain said in a low tone, “Waiting for us to stop you?”
“You want me to die in this manner?” Thales endured the strange gazes from the entire crowd and spat. “That is too foolish and too weak. Besides, there is absolutely no honor in it to speak of.
“I’ve heard that the ancient knights would swear fealty to their kings, and from then on they would obey their beliefs, protect their glory as well as defend their honor.” Thales raised his head and looked at the weird, bald archduke and the one with the bowl cut. “Even their deaths were honorable.
“And I’ve also heard that Eckstedt inherited the ancient knights’ glorious tradition. I believe that you value glory and honor more than your own lives and safety.”
“You’ve said so many things… Are you afraid of death?” The bearded man snorted derisively. “Now what? Do you want us to spare you to protect this so called ‘honor’ that you speak of?”
“No.” Thales sighed. “Once I came to this place, I did not expect myself to return alive.”
Without waiting for the archdukes to mull over the logic in his words, Thales gritted his teeth and stood straight.
There was a peculiar look in Thales’ eyes. He stared across the end of the long table, meeting King Nuven’s gaze squarely without backing down even the slightest.
While staring at Thales, Nuven the Seventh’s gaze changed slightly. A different light shone within his green eyes.
“Instead of ending my own life without any honor and pride, I would like to ask Eckstedt, who adheres to the tradition of seeking glory to give me the most dignified death,” the Prince of Constellation enunciated his words clearly and slowly,
“Common-Elected King of Eckstedt, King Nuven Walton the Seventh…”
The next moment, the Second Prince of Constellation, Thales Jadestar made the heavy sword stand straight on the ground, supporting it with one hand. Then, he lifted his right hand resolutely and decisively formed a straight line in front of him, so that he could point at the old king in the distance.
He spoke without mincing his words, “Please… come and take my life with your own hands.”
The five archdukes were all equally stunned.
His voice echoed throughout the stone hall.
Then, the hall instantly fell into silence.
In the terrifying silence, Thales stood up against the six people before him.
The bald man narrowed his eyes and looked at Thales like he was about to dig a hole in Thales’ body with his eyes.
The bearded man had a sullen expression on his face, his gaze travelling back and forth between King Nuven and Thales.
The man with the bowl cut rubbed his hands together. His thoughts were unknown.
“If killing a child personally makes you uneasy, I don’t mind changing my words.”
As he observed the archdukes’ expressions, Thales snickered and panted. “I’ve heard of an ancient rite of inheritance in Northland. It’s practiced anywhere from inheriting a title of nobility to archdukes choosing their king.”
Two seconds later, the echoes of Thales’ words gradually disappeared from the stone hall.
‘An ancient rite?
‘Inheriting a title of nobility?
‘The archdukes choosing their king?’
The five archdukes frowned in succession.
But their gazes on Thales had already changed.
Their faces flitted between surprise and bewilderment.
As for Nuven the Seventh, his expression was the same. He still looked as aloof and apathetic as ever, like he was still not over the pain of losing his son.
Thales pulled back his right hand and pressed it against the sword’s hilt. His eyes were still fixed on King Nuven.
“King Nuven, if you truly want revenge…” he said flatly, “let us duel to solve this problem.”
“You and me.”
The silence lasted for several seconds.
After those brief seconds, the suzerain with the bowl cut became the first to laugh.
The other archdukes also followed suit and roared with laughter.
Only King Nuven remained unchanged.
The man with the bowl cut pointed at Thales, and the wrinkles on his face were visible as he laughed. “Did you hear? A seven-year-old brat, hahaha… says he wants to duel…”
However, his laughter did not last long.
Nuven Walton, the Common-Elected King of Eckstedt slowly raised his hand and put a stop to the archdukes’ sneers.
The man with the bowl cut froze for a moment.
In his old but deep voice, the old king spoke with a drawl.
“Oh? You want to duel me?”
He met Thales’ gaze in the air, causing the latter’s heart to freeze in fear for a moment.
“On what basis?”
The Prince of Constellation took a deep breath.
Thales dragged the heavy sword and took a step forward as he replied King Nuven in a loud voice, “On the basis of hate and justice!”
His young voice echoed throughout the stone hall.
The two archdukes still hidden in the shadows started whispering into each other’s ears.
The other three stared at Thales with hostile expressions.
“Did Constellation not kill your one and only remaining son?” Thales gritted his teeth and stopped his legs from trembling.
“Is it not the most reasonable and just thing for a father like you to do in order to take revenge personally?”
The bearded archduke let out a displeased harrumph.
Looking livid, he said, “A seven-year-old brat like you wants to challenge the Common-Elected King of Eckstedt? Are you not bothered by the fact that the difference is too great?”
King Nuven gently lowered his arm and clasped his hands together, watching Thales quietly.
For some reason, Thales felt a large amount of his hostility disappear in that instant.
‘Was that just a figment of my imagination?
‘Regardless, I still need to do what I need to do…’
Thales Jadestar raised his head and began to imagine the posture that Morris from the Brotherhood carried while he inspected the streets. Thales then tried to project his own air of haughtiness.
“I am the future King of Constellation. He is the current King of Eckstedt. Our status is equal.
“Tormund and Midier’s blood flow in my veins, while King Nuven inherited the blood of Raikaru and Chara. Our backgrounds are equal.”
King Nuven’s lips suddenly curled into a faint, cold sneer.
“And…”—Thales returned the archdukes’ different gazes without backing down—”I am seven years old. I am young and my body is weak. My hands are small and my legs are short.” With anger in his voice, Thales spat out his words through gritted teeth. “And you, King Nuven…
“You are nearly seventy. You are old, your strength is failing you, and your vision is weak.”
Thales took a deep breath and put on a scornful smile. “We are well-matched in strength, and the chances of us winning against the other is close!
“I believe this will be a dangerous duel and an exciting one, not much different from a King Selection Congress.
“What do you say?
“The Born King of Eckstedt?”
Once he said these words, some of the archdukes frowned while some of them clicked their tongues. They all had different expressions on their faces.
King Nuven’s gaze became even stranger, and his smile gradually disappeared.
In that moment, a bark of laughter shattered the odd atmosphere.
“Hahahaha!” The fourth archduke laughed out loud, then turned around to reveal himself under the light. “You actually had the guts to say that, brat? Old and weak? Matched in terms of power? Haha, Your Majesty… this is too interesting!”
Thales was momentarily stunned before he looked at the archduke.
This archduke had long hair spilling over his shoulders; he was in his forties, and the emblem on his body was that of a scroll. He had a resolute face as well as a bold laughter, and he constantly reminded Thales of that Northern Territory Duke in Constellation, who was also a Northlander.
As he laughed boisterously, he ignored the reactions of the others and even punched the table. “You have guts, brat!”
The final archduke possessed a gentle, pleasant voice. His voice soon travelled forth towards Thales. “Alright, perhaps we should talk about this further… There is no need for us to be at each other’s throats…”
The firelight shone on the owner of the voice.
“Your Majesty,” the last archduke to speak was the youngest. He was perhaps only in his thirties and he was a young brunet with a clean face. A horseshoe with blood was sewn on his shoulder. He continued to speak in his gentle voice, “I would suggest that you continue weighing the situation…”
“Conkray Poffret.” King Nuven’s expression did not change. He only turned his head slightly and directed his gaze to the young archduke. “Do I look like I am joking?”
The young brunet, Archduke Conkray Poffret instantly found his words dying in his mouth.
The remaining four archdukes exchanged glances and adjusted their posture.
They were slightly surprised by this sudden turn of events and they were waiting for their king’s decision.
Nuven the Seventh directed his gaze back to Thales while he remained sitting on his throne. He stared at him for a full six seconds.
And Thales’ legs finally stopped trembling.
During that moment, old Kaslan’s final appraisal on Nuven the Seventh crossed his mind.
“Nuven is also human, he can grow old; and can also be confused by slanderous talk, and sex. There will also be a day when he becomes influenced by desire and impulse.”
Thales chuckled lightly in his heart.
“Of course, King Nuven,” Thales said softly, drawing their attention once more. “I respect you since your age is close to that of my grandfather’s.
“It does seem rather unfitting in terms of protocol to ask you to fight against me.”
Expressions of puzzlement appeared on the archdukes’ faces almost simultaneously.
“So after all of that, you were just full of bravado?” the bearded man said in derision. “That is why you still do not dare to—”
“No!” Thales cut him off.
“The duel will still continue!
“But if we are really going to end everything like that today…” Thales swept his gaze past the five archdukes—the bearded man, the man with the bowl cut, the bald man, the man with the long hair and the young brunet.
He then spoke in a tone that allowed no room for doubt, “I believe that all of the five archdukes here are loyal people. One of you will definitely fight for His Majesty!”
Once he said these words, the man with the long hair was the first to clench his fists.
The other archdukes’ instantly stopped breathing.
“What do you say, Your Excellencies? Would you fight for your king?”[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
Thales gritted his teeth, raising his voice. “I wonder which one of you is willing to duel with me for the honor!
“The honor of piercing my heart with the blade of vengeance!
“Kill the prince of Constellation, avenge Eckstedt!”
Thales panted heavily as he spoke.
He looked up again after a moment.
The five archdukes blanched at his words, much to his delight.