Chapter 262: Twist of Fate
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
“We were ecstatic, over the moon.”
Kaslan coughed, and like a normal old man, reminisced about the olden days. “We, a group of guys, including Little Lisban, shared the same ambition. We were sick of the feud between families and territories. That was how it began.”
Kaslan gazed at the stone pillar Nicholas was leaning against. His tone of voice was grievous. “You can’t possibly imagine, for Eckstedt, what had we been through all these years by Nuven’s side.”
Nicholas raised his head and instinctively looked at the ceiling.
“It was merely a small matter at first: to secure the authority and influence of the prince, to protect the imperiled families who were the prince’s loyalists, to punish the corrupt vassals.” A strange gleam sparkled in the old man’s eyes. “I broke the tradition of the White Blade Guards, selecting candidates with humble backgrounds, training a team of candidates who were loyal to Nuven, who did not bear the burden and concern of prestigious families… that included you, Big Mouth, Byrne, and Yvsia. You were all recruited by me during that time.”
In that second, Nicholas’ breathing stilled. He almost blurted out the words that were in his mouth.
The day he was recruited into the White Blade Guards…
“Everything I did was to allow the future king to achieve his ambitions, to be prepared.” Kaslan’s face darkened. His tone changed sharply. “But things began to change after Nuven ascended the throne.
“His enemies multiplied, became more and more powerful. He needed a sharper blade, a tougher shield. My missions became more and more unscrupulous, more and more unsavory—from hunting down criminals, to kidnapping children, to falsifying evidence of crime to incriminate opponents, to burning down farmers’ barns for winter rations…”
Nicholas clenched his fists, suppressing the emotions in him. He observed Kaslan’s shadow under the firelight. His gaze hovered over the weapon racks around him, trying to find a way to get rid of the threat of his opponent’s javelin.
‘I can’t aim as well as he can; I can’t compete with him in ranged weapons. I need…’
“It’s true that the partnership between me, Calshan, and the Secret Room was closer than you imagined,” Kaslan said gloomily. His attention focused on the back of the stone pillar. “There were many things Nuven did not want the Secret Room to interfere with, he would hand those over to us.
“I had escorted a doctor to Prestige Orchid Region and let him poison the heir of Archduke Olsius. In the name of the king’s secret envoy, I had instigated the vassals of the City of Faraway Prayers to rebel against their suzerain so that Dragon Clouds City could step in.
“I had even posed as a bandit, robbing and slaughtering a long-standing dissident noble family, from their master to the women… Other than an innocent little girl, no one was spared.
“I even instigated my nephew Harold’s defection, persuaded him to swear allegiance to Nuven, even if that could threaten his relationship with his father…”
Kaslan closed his eyes. He felt a dull pain in his chest. What he did not expect in the end was that Holt would turn his two sons against each other to be rid of Nuven’s control.
“I tried to convince myself that it was for Eckstedt,” Kaslan said in his agony. “For our ambition, if I could leave my family behind, then I can do the same for my honor and conscience.
“By day, I was an honorable and celebrated Commander of the White Blade Guards, respected by many.” The old man endured the sharp pain in his chest as he breathed. “By night however, I was a stone-hearted, unscrupulous, cold-blooded assassin for the king, leading the first batch of guards I created on the nastiest and the most secretive missions.
“You once said that you had seen through my ‘phony noble exterior’,” Kaslan said softly, “You were right. I did not deserve to stand in front of you and lecture you as a commander.”
A cold, clear voice asked from behind the stone pillar, “Why?”
Kaslan closed his eyes. Kaslan knew what he was asking about. He sighed regretfully and said, “Nuven had changed. He had aged, become paranoid, vigilant, sensitive, selfish, and prudent.
“For a whole new Eckstedt, Nuven must wield immense power and control. It was a necessary tactic.” Kaslan tightened his grip on the javelin in his hand with a complex gaze. “Nevertheless, it was unclear since when had the tactic had become the aim. The original goal had long been forgotten.
“We consume food to live, Spiky, but we should not live to consume food.” His tone had become more pained.
“The longer he stayed in power, the more he prioritized the status of Dragon Clouds City over the strength of Eckstedt. He cared about his son’s right of inheritance more than the future of the kingdom. Nuven became the most typical King of Eckstedt. Other than his family and power, he had neither the strength nor intention to fulfill his past ambitions.
“Retaining dominance had become Nuven’s only aim, while ‘For Eckstedt’ was turned into a flimsy excuse.” Kaslan observed every spot where Nicholas might make his appearance, keeping the latter’s shadow behind the stone pillar in his field of vision, he patiently waited for the other party. “It made everything we had done for the last few decades seem like a joke.”
Nicholas let out a cold laugh.
The Star Killer suppressed his anger, trying to sound unaffected. “You know, everything you do now makes what you taught us seem like a joke, too.”
Kaslan paused for a second with an unnoticeable look of guilt and anguish on his face.
“Therefore, I was tired; I retired; I gave up.” The old man exhaled a breath, shaking his head. “On that day, I stood at the bottom of the stairs, questioning him for the last time in front of all the vassals. ‘Do you still remember your ambition?’ I asked him. Since when was he constrained by his identity and position, since when did he bend his back to reality?”
Nicholas did not speak.
“You know what happened next.” Kaslan’s words were laced with melancholy. “The common-elected king was furious. A group of elders and I were expelled from the White Blade Guards.”
A silence ensued. The fire in the brazier grew fiercer, casting the shadows of the two men onto the stone pillar’s sides.
“Yeah.” Nicholas took a deep breath, seemingly with great dismay. “Meanwhile an exception was made: I was promoted, becoming the most inexperienced acting commander with the humblest origin—”
Before he finished, the Star Killer leaped out from behind the stone pillar in the next second.
The duel resumed abruptly.
Unhesitatingly, Kaslan flung the javelin in a fierce, precise manner. The javelin impaled the opponent’s body with great force.
It nailed him to the floor!
Even so, Kaslan, who was highly experienced and had been observing the opponent’s shadow the whole time, immediately noticed something was not right—it was only Nicholas’ leather chest armor the javelin had pierced through.
The real Star Killer leaped out from the other side of the stone pillar without his armor or any protection on his body.
Kaslan’s reflex was insanely fast. He aimed at the gap between Nicholas’ landing, injured foot, and the ground. He tossed out the second javelin immediately!
The Star Killer listened to the swishing wind beside his ears. He felt a chill in his chest.
‘I’m doomed. I couldn’t fool him.’
In that very moment, a familiar voice echoed, “Nicholas!”
Nicholas raised his head sharply and saw a disk-shaped object fly towards him!
The Star Killer did not hesitate. His Power of Eradication erupted within him. He made a turn on his feet and grabbed the object from mid-air.
The javelin flew towards him.
A dull sound echoed. Kaslan’s pupils became smaller.
His javelin had jammed into the disk-shaped object in Nicholas’ hands—a round shield made of thick wood and leather.
The Star Killer gritted his teeth, removed the javelin from his shield, and held it in his right hand. However, Kaslan had no time for Nicholas. He turned around solemnly, glaring vigilantly at Nicholas’ rescuer.
“Byrne.” Kaslan frowned. There was a hint of nostalgia in his eyes. “It has been a long time.”
The former White Blade Guard and administrator to the king, Byrne Mirk, stood at the entrance of the armory. He apparently did not seem too keen on responding to his ex-superior’s warm greeting.
“Sorry, commander, I don’t mind catching up.” From afar, the grim-faced Mirk took two short-handled throwing axes and swung his arms violently. “However, I just met my daughter… I don’t know what you said to her to make her the way she is now, but I am…”
Mirk raised the throwing axes in his hands with a complex emotion in his eyes. “… I am in a bad mood!”
Kaslan’s expression changed abruptly. His javelin was thrown at almost the same time as Mirk’s two throwing axes!
The javelin and throwing axes flew past each other in the air.
Despite his effort to dodge the attack, Mirk was still stabbed in the thigh by Kaslan’s javelin. Under immense pain, he fell on a row of weapon racks.
‘This is enough.’ Mirk thought.
As the sounds of metal clashing echoed, Kaslan parried off one throwing axe with a javelin, but was slashed by another. It sliced off a large chunk of his skin and flesh.
The old man took a deep breath, enduring the sharp pain in his chest.
‘When it comes to throwing skills and accuracy, Byrne is still outstanding as ever.’
As he thought about this, Kaslan turned around and threw the third javelin.
It was aimed at Nicholas, who was darting towards him at high speed!
The Star Killer’s thick shield stopped the javelin again. Due to the momentum of his charging speed, the spearhead pierced through the upper part of the shield, past Nicholas’ forearm by a considerable length.
As he charged forward, Nicholas spun the shield instinctively, the place where the shield was stabbed facing down.
Another dull thud echoed in the next second.
The fourth javelin shot towards on the shield from the same angle, penetrating his shield and lodging directly below the previous javelin. Both spears had pierced into either end of the shield.
Nicholas felt a chill in his heart. ‘If I didn’t spin the shield…’
Nevertheless, he no longer needed to worry. Nicholas threw off the worn, heavy shield, and raised the javelin in his right hand. He was back at the spot three feet away from Kaslan.
Kaslan, too, tossed the remaining javelins away with a grim look, leaving only the one in his right hand.
In the next second, two men raised their right hands at the same time.
When they were almost right in each other’s faces, two javelins shot forward in the air.
Kaslan, whose right arm was still up in the air, evaded the attack. His opponent’s javelin slashed across his cheek and jammed into the weapons rack behind him.
Nicholas, on the other hand, did not dodge or flinch, letting Kaslan’s javelin pierce into his left shoulder!
“Argh!” Nicholas endured the intense pain in his left shoulder with a grimace. His right fist shot out, to Kaslan’s puzzlement.
The Power of Eradication erupted in his bones. His fist changed course twice in the air, evading the opponents’ defense.
In that very second, Kaslan’s expression, which appeared calm the whole time, changed sharply.
As a strange metallic sound echoed, Kaslan wrapped his hand around Nicholas’ throat, while the Star Killer’s fist landed on Kaslan’s torso.
Time seemed to freeze in that very moment.
The strange thing was that Nicholas’ fist did not aim for Kaslan’s vitals, but merely hit the spot below his right armpit.
The Star Killer lowered his fist weakly.
Kaslan was trembling uncontrollably. He loosened his grasp from around Nicholas’ neck. The red-faced Nicholas gasped.
The two men remained where they stood, but they were both losing their balance.
Nicholas could not bear the heavy injury in his left shoulder anymore. He collapsed onto the floor with the javelin.
Unexpectedly, Kaslan’s face paled, his lips shivered, and his upper body could not stop trembling. He reached out his frail left hand to cup his right armpit. The old man’s face twitched constantly, as though he was in immense pain.
In the next second, a gush of blood spurted from Kaslan’s mouth. He collapsed on the ground and, like a frail, dying old man, lost all his strength.
His expression became gloomy.
Kaslan’s teeth were chattering. He asked cautiously and in the softest voice, as though afraid of waking a sleeping kitten, “How did you know…? My right armpit…” Blood kept pouring from the corner of his lips. It was a terrible sight.
Weakened, Nicholas lay on his side on the ground, reaching out a hand to grab the javelin in his left shoulder.
“Monty. He has the best eyesight and the steadiest pair of hands,” the Star Killer said with difficulty. “So, the night you were mortally wounded and got a prosthetic metal rib, he was selected to be the assistant. He stayed by your side the entire time… He knew.”
Kaslan’s gaze froze. ‘Nate Monty, the Big Mouth. That pesky, cowardly country bumpkin whose mind was filled with only lust and women?! Hmph.’
Kaslan laughed to himself, silent and helpless.
“Monty told only me.” Nicholas squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth. “Your new rib had a fragile juncture—it would be your weakness if enough pressure was applied. He instructed me to watch out for you during battle…”
As he said that, Nicholas had a suffocating feeling in his chest. He could not continue.
‘The commander’s weakness… It was supposed to be the spot they swore to protect with their lives. But…’
Nicholas clenched his fists. He felt a stinging sensation in his eyes.
Kaslan sat down on the floor, trembling, and leaned against the weapon rack behind him with a sigh of relief. As he breathed, blood poured endlessly from his mouth and nose, drenching the cloth over his chest.
Kaslan whose upper body was drenched in blood glanced lazily at the bundles of javelins on the racks beside him. “You forced me to this spot on purpose?”
“You’re used to keeping your right arm down when you fight, to protect your weakness,” Nicholas said dejectedly. “I had to look for the chance when you lifted your right arm—like when you threw that javelin.”
Kaslan arched an eyebrow and let out a bleak laugh.
‘…To die at the hands of Spiky. This sort of ending… it’s not so bad.’
“Good move. Hahaha, Spiky, you- Cough! Cough!”
His laughter lasted for a short while until his voice cracked. Kaslan frowned again and coughed violently in immense agony. Due to his movements, Kaslan’s chest emitted a horrifying crack. The old man’s face contorted.
Nicholas closed his eyes. He could not bring himself to look at his old superior’s face.
‘Damn it.’ Nicholas stretched out his arm, reaching for the javelin in his shoulder, hoping to distract himself. He could not pull it out. Nicholas then felt a slight ache in his left shoulder.
He opened his eyes in surprise and found Kaslan reach out his left hand and grip the javelin that had pierced into his shoulder.
“Endure it,” Kaslan said softy, spitting out another mouthful of blood. “It might hurt.”
Dazed, Nicholas tightened his shoulder as he watched Kaslan pull the javelin out of his shoulder. He did not notice the pain.
Nicholas recalled that evening many years ago…
When he was on the verge of death, Kaslan, who was punishing him, picked up the wooden piece from the ground and delivered it to his lips.
The Iceberg tugged at the whip in his hand and said coldly, “Bite this. This will definitely hurt.”
Nicholas snapped out of his reminiscence of the past. He struggled to sit up on the floor. With the help of his Power of Eradication, his muscles began to tighten.
He stared at pained Kaslan. The old man leaned against the weapon rack and could not stop vomiting blood. Anger and resentment grew in him.
“Talia.” Nicholas wore a dejected expression. “Your wife… What message do you want to me pass to her?”
In that second, Kaslan’s eyes gleamed suddenly. “Talia…” Kaslan’s eyes dimmed and he shook his head. “No… She’s long gone.”
In that instant, the Star Killer felt a slight tremor.
A second passed. Nicholas inhaled and lifted his head gently with a look of astonishment he was unable to mask. “How can that be? She’s only forty…”
Kaslan’s breaths started to weaken. He lifted his hand laboriously and wiped the blood off his chest. The old man wore a dark look. With his raised, shivering hand, he scooped out a lump of red silk cloth from his shirt pocket.
“A year ago, she finally found out.” Kaslan gazed at the red silk cloth, as though entranced. He slowly unfolded it, as if it contained a precious gem. “Before I confessed to her, she found that I was the man from all those years ago…”
Kaslan’s hand trembled somewhat. “I was the ‘chief bandit’ who robbed her family caravan, slaughtered her father, mother, brother—eliminated her entire family—and left only a nine-year-old girl.”
“Talia fell sick since then. Not even the best physician could identify the cause of her illness.”
Kaslan seemed unable to control his hands. Still, he tremblingly unrolled the red silk cloth in his hand inch by inch. “There she was, lying in bed under excruciating pain, withering day after day like the most beautiful blossom.
“It was the hardest battle of my life. I would rather have thirty more rounds with Zakriel, two hundred sword fights with Shao, trade my life ten more times with Xyra Darkstorm, and receive twenty punches from Molly rather than face that.” Kaslan coughed loudly with a look of anguish. “But I could only watch Talia slowly die day by day, trying to explain to her… that it was the king’s orders. It was the choice I made against my own will.”
Kaslan eventually unfolded the red silk cloth, his eyes glistening with tears.
“In her last moments, Talia told me—with a forced smile—that perhaps it was God’s will that she was destined to repent for my sin.”
Nicholas gawked at the object in the silk cloth: it was a plain black stone.
The stone was engraved with two tiny human figures. The slightly larger person was holding the hand of the slightly smaller person. The figures were misshapen, carved in an unskillful manner. Each figure was basically a circle joined by four lines representing the limbs.
It looked like the amateurish handiwork of a child, but Kaslan stared at that stone as though he was completely captivated by it. His hand began to tremble more vigorously. “In the end, as I held her almost weightless body, I asked myself, ‘Ground-Shaker Kaslan Lampard, what is the meaning of your existence?'”
The sound of something being dragged across the floor echoed from the distance. Mirk was dragging his impaled thigh, crawling towards them.
Kaslan’s eyes were filled with grief and desolation. He gave a weak smile to Mirk who was crawling towards him. “For a moment, I began to hate Nuven…
“Until a few months later, when Nuven’s only son died in Constellation.” The old man shook his head. Every sentence he spat came out with splashes of blood that streamed from his nose and mouth. “That day, as I gazed into the sky where the sun was setting, I suddenly pitied him. Both of us lost everything we had ever loved. The effort we made throughout half a lifetime turned into ash within a day.
“That once-glorious Prince Walton had in the end fallen into the vicious cycle he started, plunged into the same tragic fate as that of the suzerains of Eckstedt, and unable to escape, like my brother and my nephews.”
Nicholas ripped off a stretch of cloth to bandage his injured shoulder. He said through gritted teeth, “Idiot.”
Mirk crawled to Nicholas’ side and, together, the two of them stared at their former superior.
“In that moment, as though there was a fire burning in my chest, I was in unfathomable agony.” The volume of Kaslan’s voice gradually became lower. “But when King Nuven sent his men to look for me, expressing his wish to let me take over the title of Archduke of Black Sand Region, I realized what that fire meant.”
Kaslan’s eyes gleamed. His hand clutched the stone in his palm tightly.
“I no longer hated him, but this was not the end. Everything Nuven and I began…” Kaslan spoke with great effort, tears pouring out of his eyes. “It has not ended.
“What Nuven could not achieve, gave up on, or didn’t dare to face…” Kaslan, pale-faced, coughed violently. He trembled and said, “I will accomplish them for him… out of loyalty. The is the meaning of what remains of my life.”
Mirk stared at him in disbelief. Nicholas pressed his shoulder tightly and wordlessly lowered his head. His fists were tightening by the seconds.
As he lay on his stomach on the floor, Mirk said softly, “Commander…
“When you realized that by doing such, you betrayed him; betrayed His Majesty.” Mirk wore a grievous and pained expression as he stammered, “How did you feel about that?”
Nicholas could not help taking a glance at Mirk.?Kaslan averted his gaze which had gradually become murky.
He opened his mouth and returned a question with an unsmiling grin, “Did I betray him?”
Mirk was stunned. A silence ensued.
“By the way… I have an idea, Spiky.” The old man twitched his eyebrows.
Nicholas raised his head to look at Kaslan with a complex expression. Kaslan’s gaze slowly lost focus. Blood no longer flowed from the corners of his mouth.
“The name of your Power of Eradication…” Kaslan gazed at the ceiling, forced a smile, and said softly, “Let’s call it…
“The Twist of Fate.”
Nicholas and Mirk froze for a moment.
“Hey.” A second later, the Star Killer snorted coldly and said, “What kind of name is that…”
*Ta-thud.* A faint sound came, stopping Nicholas’ words in his throat. Nicholas and Mirk were startled.
The stone engraved with two figures rolled out of Kaslan’s grip. The two men turned their heads slowly.
The legend of the White Blade Guards, the Ground-Shaker Kaslan Lampard, lay on the weapons rack with his eyes closed, wordless and unresponsive.
Mirk stared at the unmoving Kaslan in a daze. The silence lasted for a few seconds.
Nicholas, then, stretched out his arm and took the stone in his hand. A sentence full of spelling errors was carved on the other side of the stone:
[Kaslen protacts Talia.]
Nicholas felt a stinging in his eyes. He turned his head sharply, squeezing the stone in his palm.
The Star Killer clenched his teeth and kicked the rack beside him. He leaned back, turning his head away from Mirk and Kaslan. He rubbed his face, his breathing heavy—his chest rose and fell arrhythmically.
“F*ck,” Nicholas murmured. The fire in the newly-lit brazier grew stronger. In the armory, the two sturdy, middle-aged men laid on the ground wordlessly.
Beside them, the old warrior fell into deep slumber. Never to wake again.