Chapter 244: Chad Vlad
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
Dragon Clouds City. The doorway at the back of the First Gatehouse.
Countless fully-equipped soldiers from Black Sand Region surrounded the two carriages and their attendants tightly, leaving no room for movement. With unpleasant expressions, they stared at the uninvited guests who had the guts to break into the gatehouse.
Sitting in the carriage and watching the large number of enemies through the carriage window, Thales felt his skin crawl.
‘This is really bad.’
This was what they had to face on the other side after braving the dangerous possibility of a pincer attack, charging past a hail of arrows that barely missed their scalps, and staking everything on their attempt to break into the gatehouse.
Thales clenched his fists tightly, gritted his teeth and suppressed the panic in his heart.
‘Calm down, Thales.
‘It’s not that bad yet.’
Thales recalled how Black Sword could calmly find a way out even though he had every single one of his moves suppressed by Asda, and was in grave danger.
Thales also remembered King Nuven’s scheme and strategy of advancing gradually, then bringing about a chain effect during the duel.
Thales inhaled deeply and forced himself to think.
Unforeseen incidents had happened before they reached the gatehouse. The appearances of both Lisban and the Red Witch messed with their plans. Shiles was supposed to enter Heroic Spirit Palace as Lampard’s ally with Thales in tow. This chaos should not have ensued.
These unforeseen incidents happened too quickly. They did not even have the time to discuss their next step.
Thales could only try his best to think of a way out.
The people inside and outside the carriages were still panting vigorously. Even the horses that pulled the carriages were wheezing. One of the ropes on the carriage Thales sat in snapped as well.
“We-We managed to break in… But…” Outside the carriage, Kohen had one hand on the wheel to support himself. Pressing his stomach with the other hand, he took in large mouthfuls of air, looking all dishevelled.
He stared at the extremely hostile soldiers in front of him and said to Miranda, who was panting even more vigorously than him. “In the name of the Sunset Goddess… why do I feel that our decision was a little… rash?”
“At least they didn’t turn us into porcupines when we were outside.” Catching her breath, Miranda narrowed her eyes to observe the situation around her. She then sized up the hole that was in the shape of a door, and Heroic Spirit Palace, which was extremely near to the hole. She was anxious. “Get yourself ready, quick.”
Kohen raised his head and exhaled in pain.
In the carriage, Thales looked at Putray.
“It seems that we have come to this place too flamboyantly. On top of that, there are so many of us.” The prince stared worriedly at the scene outside the carriage. “As expected, they are suspicious of us.”
Both the White Blade Guards and the other Constellatiates were not in Thales’ original plan.
Nicholas examined his disguise for the last time and said with a serious expression, “What’s done is done. Even though we put the rest of the people in danger, at least we don’t have to face the Red Witch.”[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
“There is no other choice.” Putray shook his head. “Once the Red Witch knows where we are going, it is very likely that we will fail even if we have a hundred backup plans.
“Why don’t we think of what to do next, and how to deal with these people outside?”
Thales sighed. He could feel his head throbbing due to the problems he had to face.
He turned and looked at their ‘good friend’ from Camus Union.
Their original plan was to…
Marquis Shiles saw the scene outside the carriage too, but he became calmer and more relaxed. He slowly straightened out his collar and moved to the side of the fast-moving carriage. It was as though the hail of arrows, which swept past the top of his head earlier were a mere polo game played by nobles. “Oh, I reckon that I’ve suddenly become someone important, correct?”
Thales furrowed his brows.
Ever since they entered the gatehouse, Shiles had become calm and composed. This made Thales quite uneasy.
Nicholas snorted softly. “Are we going to place all our stakes on this man again?”
Putray sighed in resignation. “We cannot just barge in. The number of guards in this gatehouse are at least a hundred times more than us.”
Shiles looked at Putray and innocently threw his hands open. However, his expression was vastly different compared to when they were still outside the gatehouse. He looked like he was questioning them on what other bargaining chips they were prepared to put on the table.
He was just like a banker in a casino who just took back his chips from the player.
Thales took a deep breath.
The accident earlier put the Northlanders in danger too. This made Nicholas’ threat to Shiles’ a little weak.
And now, they could probably only rely on Shiles.
“I know that the way we invited you over wasn’t very pleasant, Your Grace,” the prince said flatly. “Nonetheless, in a street gamble, ‘winner takes all’ often means eliminating the other players… This includes the Archduke of Black Sand Region.”
Shiles’ gaze flickered.
“Selling us out will not strengthen your fragile alliance with Lampard.” Thales calmly thought of everything from the marquis’ point of view. He thought of ways to minimize the chances of Shiles selling them out once again. “But, handing me over to Lampard and the other archdukes…
“Apart from the so-called ‘friendship’ Lampard forged with you for the sake of gains, you won’t lose anything.” Thales narrowed his eyes. “On the contrary, you may reap unexpected harvests.”
Shiles’ eyes lit up. “Is this a promise from the heir of the Royal Family of Constellation?”
“Based on my experience, promises are very fragile… Even if they are made by suzerains and kings.” Thales shook his head firmly. “But as you’ve said, we cannot only look at numbers and profits when doing business. We also have to win public praise and forge connections.”
Putray arched one of his eyebrows.
Shiles narrowed his eyes and met Thales’ gaze.
Outside the carriage, the soldiers of Black Sand Region started shouting in a loud voice. They knocked on the carriage door.
The prince nodded, and his tone left no room for doubt, “Outside Lampard, please see us as your contingency plan.”
Shiles stared at the prince with considerable interest. The corners of his lips curled up, and the look in his eyes kept changing.
Finally, he nodded slightly.
“I will miss this day. What an amazing performance.” The marquis from Camus Union straightened out his collar and lifted his hat a little. He flashed the others a polite smile, and then shot Thales a glance. His gaze was quite profound. “Whether it’s Lampard’s part or your part, it’s worth the return fare to this place.”
Thales’ tone was very solemn. “Remember, the only thing you need to do is send me to Lampard and the other archdukes.”
However, the Marquis of Good Flow City only smiled at Thales. He then pushed the carriage door open and walked out.
Thales inhaled deeply. Exchanging looks with Putray, he followed Shiles down the carriage.
Leaving Nicholas and Putray behind.
“He’s a shameless bastard.” Staying on the carriage, Nicholas snorted coldly and stared at Shiles’ retreating figure. “He will not obediently cooperate with us.”
“It is precisely because of that…” The vice diplomat of Constellation shook his head. “That he will not obediently cooperate with Lampard either.”
Nicholas shot him a glance.
“You don’t seem to be worried about your prince at all,” the Star Killer said coldly.
“When I first met him, Thales was only a precocious child who was intelligent in small ways.” The vice diplomat looked like he was deep in thought. “Sensitive, hesitant and cowardly; he dealt with things sloppily, without any confidence. He was very different compared to the reputation he’s gotten from the National Conference.”
Nicholas furrowed his brows.
Staring at Thales’ tiny, retreating figure, Putray sighed.
“But as we spent more time together, I had a feeling.” He sighed emotionally. “The more he went through, the more powerful he became… Thales is always learning, adjusting and adapting.
“Everyone, including the vampires, calamities, Fortress Flower, Kingdom’s Wrath, even King Nuven and Chapman Lampard; whether they’re his friends or enemies…”
“…I’m afraid that they are not aware of the effect their actions bring upon this child.” Putray’s eyes shone with an unusual glimmer.
The Star Killer froze momentarily.
He turned and tightened his grip on the sheath of his blade. He pouted nonchalantly.
“So much bullsh*t.”
Outside the carriage, Thales walked behind Shiles. He nodded his head a little at Wya and the rest, who were in disguise.
Thales was not very used to the sudden increase of light intensity. Narrowing his eyes a little, he stared at the doorway of the gatehouse.
This was Thales’ third time visiting the first gatehouse in two days.
He still remembered the first time he entered the first gatehouse. Attended by the diplomat group, he watched anxiously and awkwardly as the gatehouse separating Heroic Spirit Palace and the outer part of Dragon Clouds City was lowered.
But this time, they were here to…
Soon, Thales saw a ‘familiar’ sight. The boorish but grand Heroic Spirit Palace was less than a hundred meters in front of them. The ten gigantic corridor pillars and the eight large braziers still stood within it.
However, all the palace guards and White Blade Guards, who used to be everywhere were gone without a trace.
They were replaced by a few hundred Black Sand Region soldiers.
They were vigilant and their expressions were fierce. They still wore patrol uniforms, but they no longer wielded patrol sabers, which were made specifically for small-scale clashes. Instead, they wielded lethal weapons that were exclusive to large-scale battlefields such as spiked penta-maces, battle axes and straight military knives. There were even bows. They looked like they just scourged the gatehouse’ arsenal.
Clad in plate armor, a noble who had a broad face and tall nose bridge walked out of the Black Sand Region army formation.
Lampard’s chief vassal, Count Levan stared unpleasantly at the Marquis of Good Flow City, who stood in front of everyone. “Your Grace, I need an explanation regarding your trespassing of the gatehouse.”
The soldiers of Black Sand Region revealed fierce gazes while they surrounded the group.
Almost all of the people on Thales’ side held their breaths.
Shiles lowered his head and sighed softly.
Everyone including Thales waited anxiously for his reaction.
When Shiles raised his head, the marquis flashed a polite and amiable smile once again.
“My dear Count.” Shiles nodded slightly. His smile was reserved and friendly. “I’ve brought you a surprise.”
Count Levan narrowed his eyes. He carefully scrutinized Shiles and his ‘attendants’.
With a ruminating look, Levan said, “You’ve appeared at the wrong time, so I will not quite consider this a surprise. Especially after you’ve brought along… these people.”
Even though they were in disguise, Count Levan noticed the White Blade Guard’s strong build and agile movements. He could not help but reveal a surprised expression.
Thales’ heart immediately skipped a beat.
But Marquis Shiles smiled slightly and raised his hands with complete confidence.
“I heard that there was a small accident with your prisoners in the gatehouse?” he said softly to Levan. He looked like he was watching a good play.
Levan’s expression changed. He looked a little anxious. “A small accident? You have misunderstood…”
Shiles revealed an expression which indicated that he knew everything. Raising his index finger and pointing it at Levan, he clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Oh, looking at your face, it seems that the archduke has yet to know about the mistake you made?”
Levan was immediately at a loss for words.
Staring at Levan’s expression, Shiles burst into laughter and moved to reveal the boy behind him. “Let me introduce him to you.
“This is your archduke’s missing ‘guest’, and the esteemed Prince Thales Jadestar, the only heir of Constellation.
“I have escorted him back here.”
Count Levan’s expression froze on his face.
Thales took a deep breath, and a few slow steps forward. His expression was one of indignance.
Shiles had a joyful expression. It looked like he was trying his best, but failing to stop himself from showing off. Shiles sighed before he slowly went up to Count Levan and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Take it easy. I used every means to bring in this ‘surprise’ right under the Prime Minister’s nose.”
Shiles raised his eyebrows and waved at Mirk, who was standing in front of the group. “Look, if it wasn’t for this strong team of mercenaries I hired from the Western Deserts, I’m afraid that I would not have been able to seize him.”
Levan’s expression changed. His gaze on the White Blade Guards and Constellatiates became a lot less hostile. “Mercenaries?”
Under his disguise, Mirk looked like he had a tall nasal bridge and dark skin. He flashed an exaggerated smile and nodded at Count Levan.
“Part of us are from the City of Faraway Prayers, and also Northlanders. The rest of us are from other places, Sir,” Mirk said in a deep voice. “We make a living in the desert. If you have any requests… we can kill someone for only six gold coins.”
The White Blade Guards flashed straightforward, good-natured silly smiles in unison. This gave Count Levan a scare.
‘Such good actors.’
Thales rolled his eyes inwardly.
‘The White Blade Guards are indeed “all-rounders”.’
Levan stared at these people, and then at Thales, who was surrounded by them before he furrowed his brow.
Shiles still had a smile on his face.
Finally, after contemplating deeply for quite some time, the crease between Levan’s brows vanished and he waved at the soldiers behind him. “Return to your respective positions! Harlson and Jason, both of you stay here with your squads.”
Following his order, the large number of soldiers from Black Sand Region turned. The sounds of their footsteps were like rustling water. They returned to the gatehouse through the stairs on both sides. More than half the people in the place were gone in the blink of an eye.
Thales breathed a sigh of relief.
“On the archduke’s behalf, thank you for your help.
“Lord Tolja is already off to apologize to the archduke. If he saw your ‘surprise’, he would definitely be very relieved.” Count Levan let out an unnatural cough and peered at Thales. He then nodded awkwardly at Shiles. “I will extend your goodwill to the archduke. Let me take over from here.
“You can rest here with your people—”
Shiles shook his head while he smiled. He raised his right hand and stopped the count from speaking.
“Oh, no.” The marquis’ eyes brightened. “This prince just told me a new piece of information that is of incredible importance. I believe that I must bring him to meet His Grace as soon as possible.”
Levan was slightly taken aback.
“His Grace is currently busy.” The Count of Black Sand Region frowned. “None are allowed to bother him.”
Shiles’ smile faded away, and his expression became stern.
“Please believe me. The prince’s information concerns what His Grace intends to do,” Shiles’ tone suddenly gained a serious tone, and as a result, Count Levan could not help but feel nervous as well. “You will not be able to imagine what it is.”
Count Levan regarded Shiles seriously.
The latter also met his gaze squarely with a stern expression.
A second later, Count Levan sighed. “Alright, I will send people to bring you to His Grace…”
“I must be the one who escorts him.” Shiles shook his head, then gestured with his mouth to Thales. “There are certain things that can only come from his mouth.”
“Levan was slightly curious. “Is it that urgent?”
Shiles first shook his head before he nodded. A mysterious expression appeared on his face. “Very.”
Levan stared into his eyes for several seconds.
“I understand.” The count nodded. “You can leave first. The archduke is in Heroic Spirit Palace, near the Hall of Heroes.”
Shiles smiled. “Thank you.”
Thales felt as if a huge worry was finally gone, and he could finally be relieved.
As long as he could meet the archdukes, he would still have a chance.
“Wait, let your men stay here,” Levan commanded his team and nodded at Shiles, while still remaining on guard. “Our people will escort you in.”
Shiles raised his brows, and cast a glance at the group by the carriage fleet in a seemingly casual manner.
“Of course.” The marquis nodded without hesitation.
Thales felt his heart sink.
He watched the people around the two carriages being brought away by the soldiers of Black Sand Region. He also watched as a group of soldiers walked towards him and Shiles. The person in the lead nodded at him politely.
The prince sucked in a deep breath.
From now on, he was on his own.
Yet, at that very moment, a man’s sonorous voice traveled into their ears from the steps leading to the city gates behind them.
The people in the group turned their heads around simultaneously.
A strange, average-looking man walked down slowly from the steps. He seemed to be middle-aged and he was dressed in elegant clothes with eight braids behind his head.
Count Levan frowned, then asked in an annoyed manner, “What is it, my dear Disciplinary Officer of the citizens?”
He did not seem to like the middle-aged man who had just appeared at all.
Mirk and Nicholas frowned at the same time while they were in the crowd. The both of them lowered their heads.
They recognized this person.
The middle-aged man shook his head, completely unbothered by Levan’s tone towards him.
“Mercenaries, right?” The middle-aged man moved towards the carriage fleet and sized up the group before putting on a bashful smile. His gaze stopped on Miranda. “I didn’t know that you had a female mercenary amongst you.”
Kohen and Raphael exchanged glances. An uneasiness surged up in their hearts, but Miranda remained expressionless. She raised her head, revealing her face. It was now dark and coarse due to the workings of the face paint.
“I come from the Land of Thorns, Sir,” the swordswoman answered with a lisp and in an uncouth manner. “That place is littered with female mercenaries.”
Kohen allowed his eyelids to fall slightly. ‘Good acting.’
The middle-aged man raised his brows a little.
“I see.” He nodded slightly as his eight braids swayed a bit. “May I see your sword? I’m very curious to see how heavy a female mercenary’s sword is.”
Miranda was taken aback slightly.
“Enough, Vlad,” Count Levan answered in a displeased manner. “Perhaps the archduke can tolerate your rudeness, but this is—”
“Just a moment, Your Grace.” The man named Vlad turned his head and interrupted him with a loud voice. There was a profound note in the words he spoke next. “You do not wish to commit a huge mistake again, do you?”
Levan instantly stopped speaking.
Thales could not help but feel puzzled. ‘What’s wrong?
‘This middle-aged man… If I’m not mistaken, Kohen and the others mentioned that he’s one of the underground forces of power within Dragon Clouds City.’
Vlad turned his head around and smiled at Miranda again. “May I?”
Miranda removed the saber by her waist without a word and handed it to the man before her.
“Whew.” Vlad weighed the sword in his hand and could not help but sigh with deep emotion. “It’s really not light.”
Miranda smiled. “I think so too.”
Vlad sighed and drew a portion of the saber from its scabbard.
“Allow me to introduce myself as well. My name is Chad Vlad.” The middle-aged man shook his head and lowered his head to size up the saber in his hand from various angles. “Twelve years ago, I was in charge of collecting taxes in the twelve villages located at the suburbs of Cold Castle.”
Miranda frowned a little.
“Oh, Cold Castle. I know that place,” she laughed and spoke with a gruff voice. “You’re from Constellation?”
By his side, Count Levan shook his head in contempt.
“That’s right. On paper, we were employed in Cold Castle’s Tax Department.” Vlad flipped over the saber in his hand and caressed the sword belt wrapped around the sword’s hilt. He continued calmly, “They employed us because they needed us to argue over some trifling matters, using reasonable arguments with higher-ranked tax collectors—the ones from Central Territory. All so that they could pay less taxes to the king.”
Miranda and Raphael, who had been listening attentively, were a little taken aback.
‘Why… did he say that?’
“But we’ve never met the ones in charge of Cold Castle.”
Vlad sighed. “They only sent their vassals—those idiots from the Szalays Family—to check the accounts. Those idiots only know how to take away a large sum of money from the tax items under the name of being part of the suzerain’s family. After all is said and done, we are the ones who end up with a bad name. It didn’t matter if it was the higher-ranked tax collectors, or the villagers in the villages, they had spies everywhere. They were also related by marriage to the suzerain’s family. We had no one to speak of our grievances and could only restrain our anger every single year.”
“That’s why you came to Eckstedt.” Miranda shrugged, then snorted, completely unbothered. “I can understand.”
Vlad suddenly lifted his head and raised his voice. His expression was filled with anger.
He caused everyone to jump in fright.
“You don’t understand.”
Vlad put the saber back into its scabbard. His expression was dreary. “In the end, Cold Castle sent a young aristocrat to collect taxes one year. He was young and of noble status with a promising future. He was just and dared to speak his mind. He had a good reputation among the people as well. At that time, we thought our condition would change, that we would no longer need to be humiliated and oppressed.”
The former Constellation tax collector sighed softly. A nostalgic look appeared in his eyes. “I remember that young aristocrat’s name clearly—Nolanur.”
Miranda’s expression did not change, but a huge storm raged in her heart!
‘Nolanur, that was…’
In Miranda’s distant memories, she saw a tall, young man with stubbles all over his chin.
He laughed in the direction of a girl who was not even as tall as a carriage wheel. He picked her up, and rubbed his stubble against her face.
The swordswoman subconsciously clenched her fists.
Raphael and Kohen glanced at each other, and the uneasiness in them became stronger.
Thales peered at the area and found something off about the situation.
‘What’s going on? He’s talking about his own past to Miranda… Has he noticed something?’
“Nolanur told us that he discovered something strange in Cold Castle’s tax items,” Vlad said softly. “He even said…”
During that moment, pain appeared in Vlad’s eyes.
“He said that we, all of us small tax collectors, always embezzled taxes, and that he had already reported the issue to the Szalays Family,” Vlad said in anger and derision. “The victims were reported! We were accused of embezzlement and filling our own pockets with public funds!”
By his side, Count Levan frowned. He sensed that something was off.
Vlad may have been of common birth and had a wicked heart, but he was neither a fool, nor a lunatic.
He was instead, very intelligent.
By the side, Marquis Shiles tried to say something as he felt incredibly awkward, but his actions were stopped by Count Levan.
Vlad lowered his head in great agony. “No matter how hard we pleaded, the ‘just Nolanur’ personally beheaded eight of my colleagues amid the cheers of the villagers, including my teacher.
“Eight innocent people,” Vlad said drearily.
His expression then turned into one of hatred.
“I will never forget that foolish aristocrat, and I will never forget the feeling of kneeling on the execution platform. I will never forget the looks of contempt directed at us from all the people.” Hatred and enmity appeared in his eyes. His eight braids swayed slightly. “Damn him, Nolanur Arunde.”
When they heard this famous surname, quite a number of people’s expressions changed.
In that moment, warning bells rang in Thales’ heart!
‘If that’s the case…’
He cast a glance at Shiles, pleading for help, but the latter only frowned. He did not say a word.
Vlad gritted his teeth tightly and let out a cry akin to a wild beast.
Miranda took a deep breath and raised her head.
“I remember that disgusting, righteous look on his face?before that brat executed my colleagues.” A chilling glare appeared in Vlad’s eyes. His words were laced with pain while he imitated that person’s tone in the past. “‘In the name of the suzerain of Cold Castle, Duke Dylan Arunde, you will die under the blade of the ‘Soaring Eagle’ to atone for your crimes. This is so that justice will return.’ He said these words once, and beheaded a person.”
Vlad spoke furiously, “I was the ninth person. I heard him repeat these words eight times, and also watched him swing this saber eight times! Then, Cold Castle sent an order and summoned him back urgently. I was to be executed on the second day.”
Miranda only felt an endless chill creep up her back.
She snatched her saber back, and her face was pale. She stopped frowning.
Vlad did not stop her. He only put on a contemptuous, cold sneer.
With a terrifying expression, Vlad stared at the saber in her hand.?“Naturally, I will never forget how this saber looks like until the day I die.
“Even if you wrap a sword belt over it and cover the crossguard, or change the scabbard, I will still be able to recognize that saber of his, which shines with a freezing light,” he stated coldly.
“That saber is the Soaring Eagle, the saber that belongs to Nolanur Arunde.”
“Am I right, young lady… who has a strange relationship with the Arunde Family?” Vlad asked flatly. There was deep hatred and anger hidden in his eyes.
All the people on Thales’ side felt their hearts shudder.
The thing they were worried about the most had happened.
With a pale expression, Shiles looked at the one in charge of the place—Count Levan.
The count sighed. Then, with a complicated expression on his face, he cast a glance at the rigid Vlad.
“It seems like you have not told us the truth, Your Grace.” Count Levan scanned the people in the carriage fleet before he coldly stated, “As expected of a Camian.”
Marquis Shiles sighed, and cast a resigned gaze at Thales.
Thales only felt his hands turn cold.
“They do not belong to our side.”
Could Levan turned to Shiles and Thales. With a hostile expression, he shouted, “They are people with ulterior motives!”
The count swung his arm and ordered his men callously.
“Seize all of them!”