Chapter 344: Black Track
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
At the next second, Gleeward pushed Thales aside and looked in another direction. His breathing accelerated.
Kurtz coughed softly.
“I see Kevin.” Kurtz nudged her head toward the left. There, a youngster stuck his head out from behind the wall and looked around sneakily. He waved in their direction—Thales could recognize that it was that young coachman who brought Old Crow into Shield District the night before.
They had just finished talking about him, so perhaps that was why the three of them looked rather pale when they saw Kevin.
It was as if they were caught gossiping behind someone’s back.
“I’ll go and make a final confirmation. Wait for my signal.” Kurtz spat out the grass in her mouth, patted off the dust in her hands and stood up. The bearings of a rascal instantly disappeared, and she looked sharp and alert.
Gleeward nodded and watched her depart.
Only the veteran and prince were left behind.
The atmosphere was rather dreary.
Thales watched the seamstress leave into the distance, then suddenly said, “Honestly speaking, I’ve been in Northland for six years now. It’s rare to see a Northlandic lady like her.”
Gleeward paused slightly. He let out a light snort.
“Kurtz’s father was a military doctor, so she grew up in military camps. Her childhood was filled with blood and pained screams.”
Thales’ gaze shifted.
The veteran tapped his fingers on his wheelchair. It seemed like he was recollecting the past.
“Until she was about ten years old, her only company were old ruffians serving soldiers. Those were her friends until her father passed away unexpectedly. You won’t be able to imagine what the little girl had to experience in that hell. You also won’t be able to imagine this was how she would turn out.”
Thales’ heart tightened.
He looked at the corner where Kurtz disappeared into with a rather surprised expression while he recalled the tough and boisterous impression the seamstress gave him.
Gleeward absentmindedly said, “At least, that was before I fished her out from that group.
“It’s a pity. The renowned Dragon Clouds City was not that much greater, especially when it came to Shield and Hammer District.”
At that moment, the tough veteran appeared particularly tired, as though he had just fought in a war.
Thales sucked in a breath slowly. “No wonder.”
Gleeward snorted softly and shook his head. “You were born as a noble with everything going smoothly for you. I’m afraid that it’s very difficult for you to imagine. But, do you think that she was born with a foul mouth, born untameable and violent, completely devoid of any traces of gentleness?
“Do you think that she didn’t want to be like an ordinary Northlandic lady, to put on gorgeous clothing, dress up like a noble, put on makeup and sit in the warm, magnificent palace? All while speaking softly, enjoying a good meal and having men fawn over her?”
Gleeward gripped his wheelchair tightly. The remaining three fingers on his left hand trembled faintly.
“When life is tough to you, you have to be even tougher.”
Thales did not speak for a long time.
However, he raised his head immediately after.
“But I think she’s great the way she is now.” The prince, who felt rather heavy in his heart, had a sharp look in his eyes.
“She has the strongest, most beautiful, and most charming appearance for a woman.”
Thales let out an alarmed yell.
He wrapped both his hands around his aching forehead and looked at Gleeward indignantly.
The veteran pulled back his right hand without any expression (his right hand was also the size of a big wok). “Don’t try to pick up girls at such a young age.”
Thales gave him a resentful expression.
“But, you’re not wrong.
“She’s brilliant.” Gleeward smiled faintly, and his eyes sparkled slightly.
“It’s been more than ten years. Kurtz has become our brother for a very long time.”
Thales rubbed his head fiercely and said in a bad mood, “Just a brother?
“She’d be very disappointed.”
Gleeward cast him a glance, though no one knew whether it was intentional or not. However, he did not say anything.
A few seconds later, the veteran suddenly opened his mouth to speak.
“Your father, how is he like?”
Gleeward turned his face to the side, shook his head, and shrugged as if he did not care. “Yes.”
Those were memories from way too long ago.
Thales replied somewhat falteringly while he frowned, “He… He’s a king.”
For the second time, Thales hugged his head while his eyes watered, and he stared at Gleeward resentfully as he pulled back his right hand.
Gleeward appeared rather exasperated.
“Damn it. Who the hell doesn’t know that your father’s a king… Say something different, something useful, alright?”
Thales was fuming as he gritted his teeth. “Keep your hands off me!
“Different? He…” As the prince was about to speak, a thought appeared in his mind. “Wait a minute, why would you want to know this?”
Gleeward coughed. He then turned his head around in a seemingly casual manner.
“Oh, that, well… You know, the current and former kings of Eckstedt were despicable, shameless bastards.” The veteran shrugged nonchalantly for the second time. He rubbed his back against the wheelchair several times.
“I’m wondering if Constellation’s king is the same.”
Thales put on a dubious expression.
“But Old Crow said that you don’t care about high-level politics.”
Gleeward’s expression changed. “Yes… I… I had a sudden change of mind… Knowing a little more isn’t a bad thing. I can mock him the next time I meet him.”
The veteran shrugged a third time.
Thales observed Gleeward, seemingly in deep thought.
It lasted until Gleeward coughed in embarrassment. He turned his face away.
Thales asked tentatively, “But didn’t you say that you don’t want to see Hicks again?”
Gleeward’s face reddened. “It’s none of your business!”
“Of course, of course. But…” Thales observed Gleeward’s side profile and squinted.
“Out of all people, why my father?”
Gleeward’s expression froze.
“Oh, fine.” He swung his arm and interrupted Thales in agitation. “You know what… forget about it. Forget about this.”
Gleeward snorted repeatedly. He was obviously very displeased.
“Who the hell cares about your king of a father?”
The old veteran crossed his arms and turned around. While he shrugged the fourth time, he grumbled to himself in frustration, “He’s just another talented, precocious, wealthy, handsome, charming, devilish, and domineering pretty boy.”
Thales watched him silently and smiled.
“Then what about Therren?”
Gleeward shuddered slightly. “Huh?”
“You heard what I said.” Thales sighed. “What about my mother? How was she like?”
The time he had to wait for the answer to this question was incredibly long.
It took a long while before Gleeward twisted his mouth and shook his head in disdain.
“Your mother? Hah!
“That nasty lady with all those tricks up her sleeves…” The veteran on the wheelchair put on a complicated look, which was difficult to decipher. He spoke as if he could care less about Thales’ mother, “Her specialty is causing trouble and pissing everyone off.
“Fooling everyone into cleaning up her mess.”
Thales nodded. “Including you?”
“Oh, please,” Gleeward shook his head and sneered.
“I hated her the most.”
Thales smiled faintly.
“You and Hicks… You were both slaves in the desert back then, right?”
This question seemed to remind Gleeward of something painful.
He jumped a few inches up his wheelchair, utterly annoyed.
“I don’t care what the Old Crow told you…”
Gleeward pointed at Thales with a hostile expression. “I agreed to do you a small favor, but that doesn’t mean we’re very close!
“Stop trying to provoke a reaction in me with all that ‘He’s my best friend’ crap.”
Thales had no choice other but to blink and express his understanding.
Both of them leaned back, one against his wheelchair, and the other against the wall as they waited for Kurtz’s signal.
Then, Gleeward began to speak again.
“Hey, the Old Crow didn’t tell me much, but based on the direction you’re heading…” It seemed as if Gleeward could not cool down from his “rage” naturally, because he said his next words very stiffly.
“You want to go to the desert, right?”
Thales’ heart tensed.
He spread his hands and only smiled with his eyes nearly shut.
However, Gleeward appeared to see through his thoughts. He snorted lightly.
“Listen, if you want to enter the desert, then you better have a skilled guide. Otherwise…”
Gleeward shook his head in disapproval.
Thales had a thought. “Is it that scary in the desert? Is it the orcs or the Barren Bone people?”
“Both.” Gleeward lifted a corner of his mouth. His gaze was sharp. “Orcs… When they crush your skulls, they can do so effortlessly, as effortlessly as when we crack eggs. As for the Barren Bone people… it’s hard to say. Everything they do goes against all conventions.”
“Against all conventions?”
“But your biggest threat is far from being just them.” Gleeward’s expression was grim.
“It is the desert itself. The sun, yellow sand, and also the demons constantly muttering in your ear. They’ll tell you, ‘Go ahead and lay down. Sleep. Dream. Don’t stand up ever again’.”
The veteran had that absentminded look on his face again, and he stared into the distance.
Thales looked at his side profile and thought of something. “You’ve been in the desert, haven’t you?”
Gleeward nodded absentmindedly.
“When I was serving in the army, I went there to fight in the war.”
Thales frowned slightly. “Then?”
Gleeward lifted his head.
“Then?” The veteran on the wheelchair looked at Thales solemnly.
“There’s no ‘then’ anymore.”
At that moment…
An uproar was suddenly heard from the street in the distance.
It appeared to be two men quarreling.
The alert Gleeward gripped both ends of his wheelchair. “That’s the signal; those are our men.”
Thales stood up nervously. He lowered his body and pressed himself flat against the low fence.
“Will we succeed?”
With worry in his chest, Thales watched the two men who began to fight just from one disagreement. He watched their fight turn increasingly intense.
More and more people joined in, turning the scuffle into a gang fight, then turning the gang fight into a riot.
The patrols at the outpost started to walk towards them with furrowed brows. They seemed to be a little suspicious of what was going on.
Thales felt uneasy at heart. “The Star Killer may suspect that something’s off. I’ve seen the operations of the former White Blade Guards in Dragon Clouds City. I saw how they confirmed the whereabouts of a Camian within half an hour in a chaotic situation. The Star Killer and the White Blade Guards know Dragon Clouds City like the back of their hands. This is their home.”
The riot in the distance became greater with each passing second. Many people rushed over from the streets and joined the scuffle once they heard the news.
A patrol guard who went to stop the fight was also punched.
Gleeward let out a mocking laugh.
“Star Killer? Hah, the head of the lapdogs and the lapdogs he leads?”
The veteran on the wheelchair turned his head around. His expression was very serious.
“The person who’s most qualified to call this city ‘home’… has never been them.”
Gleeward patted his chest without another word.
The next second, Gleeward turned his wheelchair around. As the riot grew more violent. He rushed out of their shelter, then moved swiftly amid the large crowd, straight towards the Cliff of the Sky. “Let’s depart.”
Thales let out a deep breath. He sprinted after the veteran.
The process of avoiding the patrols was easier than imagined. The noise from the scuffles of the poor in Shield District was great. The one dozen patrols—too few in number—were surrounded. They could not get out. It was already difficult enough for them to even protect themselves, let alone find out about Thales and Gleeward sneaking off to the Cliff of the Sky.
In Gleeward’s words, it meant that “Dragon Clouds City was declining with each generation.”
In the chaos, they slipped under the uneven cliff that was filled with rocks before the army sent by the patrols came to quell the riot. Only the heavens knew how the veteran managed to move so quickly while he sat in a wheelchair!
After taking many twists and turns while following Gleeward, Thales was feeling faint. Finally, he saw Kurtz in front of a small, pitch-black hole.
Kurtz looked nervous, yet her movements were not hesitant at all. She took out an old, remodeled, and cheap Everlasting Lamp from her backpack before she tossed it to Thales.
Thales, who was gasping for breath hugged the Everlasting Lamp. He watched Kurtz fish out some ropes and tools, then said with a grave expression, “I’m ready anytime.”
The sounds of the scuffle behind them started to become fainter.
Kurtz scoffed, seemingly in disdain. “Remember, only step on the spots I’ve stood in.”
Thales breathed in heavily, then nodded with complex emotions.
“Just pray that I don’t die in there.” Kurtz laughed as she patted the veteran’s back.
The seamstress held the Everlasting Lamp in her mouth, straightened her body and took the lead. She jumped down into the small, pitch-black hole feet first.
‘So this is… the Black Track?’
Thales did not even have time to be astonished about the fact that there was a completely different world in the tiny cave. Gleeward then sighed and patted him on the shoulder.
“My men will go to the exit and get the horses ready to go anywhere you want to.” The veteran looked hesitant, but in the end, he did not say anything more. “Just follow Kurtz closely while you’re in there.”
Thales took a deep breath. He imitated the seamstress and put his legs into the cave. His feet did not manage to touch the bottom, but he could already feel the cold wisps of air in the cave, along with a faintly discernible breeze inside.
“You’re not coming?”
The scuffle behind them continued, but the patrols’ whistles had already risen into the air in the distance.
It was obvious that they did not have much time left.
Gleeward patted whatever remained of his thigh and spoke in a mocking manner, “Do I look like I can leap on roofs and vault over walls?”
Thales’ heart clenched.
“Go ahead.” Gleeward’s face was dark. He turned to the side. “I have to go back and handle the situation, especially with that dead face.”
As Thales stared at the veteran, he clenched his fists tightly.
“Gleeward.” Thales gritted his teeth and nodded heavily.
With a serious look, the teenager said, “Regardless of whether you’re doing this for Old Crow, or my mother.”
Gleeward was stunned.
Thales gazed at him with sincerity shining in his eyes and nodded faintly.
At the next second, the veteran’s expression turned into that of annoyance. He pushed Thales into the Black Track with a slap on his back, while the latter cried out in surprise.
Once he saw Thales vanish into the Black Track, Gleeward took in two large gulps of air and calmed his irritation.
Gleeward cursed silently in his heart.
‘For his mother?
‘Who does he think he is?’
Gleeward turned his wheelchair around, his expression remained unchanged. As he watched the scuffle on the streets, where the victor and loser were becoming clearer, he spat in displeasure.
He looked at the sky, which had just brightened up and murmured, “A king.” Gleeward’s expression darkened. The words he said to himself were filled with dejection.
“How could he be a… king?”
The veteran stared at what remained of his thighs, then touched his empty left eye socket. His expression was forced and full of gloom. He then said in a low murmur, “F*ck.”
But a few breaths later, Gleeward relaxed his tensed expression.
He schooled his face and pulled out a piece of thread from a pocket at his bosom, looking lost.
From the folds of his clothes, he slowly drew out a small, black leather pouch.
Gleeward tore open the leather pouch with trembling hands. He stared at the object inside with a blank expression, and then at the entrance to the Black Track.
He did not speak for a long time.
The veteran stopped what he was doing and scoffed lightly as he shook his head in a self-deprecating way. “F*ck…”
The sounds of the scuffle behind him began to die down.
But Gleeward did not notice it.
He curled his fingers around the object in his hand, and his expression changed repeatedly. Then, with every ounce of his strength, he put on a fierce expression and shouted, “F*ck!”
It was as if he could prove something by doing so.
A few seconds later, Gleeward leaned back into his wheelchair.
He let out a few forced waves of laughter in a weak manner.
The veteran shut his eyes tightly. This time, his tone was laced with a faint melancholy.
Finally, the object in Gleeward’s hands slowly drifted down and fell onto his wheelchair.
The morning light shone on it.
It was a neatly-tied bundle of female hair.
Supple, smooth, beautiful.
It had a fiery red luster to it.
As he felt his back scrape against the walls of the cave, Thales opened his eyes to darkness after he slid to the bottom of the cave, feeling incredibly tense the entire time.
Then, he heard the sound of footsteps.
“Hey, you’re afraid of the dark?”
Thales squinted as his eyes adjusted to the sudden ray of light. He recovered from his shock due to the abrupt appearance of Kurtz’s voice. Thales stared at Kurtz, who was holding an Everlasting Lamp and looking at him with an amused expression.
He was surrounded by darkness and the cold.
Their Everlasting Lamps could only light up a small area around them.
“Follow me.” In the darkness, the seamstress helped Thales to light up his Everlasting Lamp, sighing.?She only had half her face illuminated by her lamp. “The Black Track is just like life, though some roads are not that easy to tread, you still have to catch up.”
Kurtz’s words had a somewhat desolate tone to them, “Because once you’re left behind…
“You’ll never be able to go back.”
Thales climbed to his feet in a very disheveled manner.
Kurtz turned around. She placed both her hands and feet on the pitch-black walls, as though she was about to climb up.
“I have to climb this wretched place again…
“At least I got three hundred gold coins the last time…”
Kurtz grumbled to herself sarcastically, “The client this time? He’s giving us an opportunity to be hanged from the gallows, hah!
Thales just acted like he did not just hear her words.
The Black Track was narrower than Thales had imagined. Just as he tried to reach out to grab the Everlasting Lamp by his side, his arm knocked against the rock wall.
Thales hissed in pain and rubbed the spot where it hurt. He picked up his Everlasting Lamp carefully this time, not daring to be careless again. Then, he chased after Kurtz with great difficulty.
Kurtz was obviously used to the place, and Thales could only barely see Kurtz’s trouser legs and boots through the faint glimmer of his Everlasting Lamp.
Very soon, Thales experienced just how treacherous the Black Track was.
It was obvious that there was no flat road there. They either climbed up or down, and the walls were even full of potholes. A good few areas were even as steep as ridges, requiring Kurtz to climb up with an iron hook to throw down a rope and pull him up.
“Is the Black Track really made for people to travel about?” after the eighth time Thales fell down, he complained in pain.
“It wasn’t this hard last time.” Kurtz chuckled gently up ahead. “But you know… the calamities had nothing to do so they played around with stones in Dragon Clouds City, then for no reason, made half this place collapse.
Thales practically knocked into something with every step he took in his journey in the darkness. He often fell or slipped because of his lack of experience walking through these sort of places. If it was not for his ample experience with being hit or thrown to the ground during his childhood, Thales believed he would have been badly battered by now.
“Be careful, stop falling.”
Kurtz’s voice came from the area in front of him.
Thales blushed immediately and fumbled about the surrounding rock strata even more carefully. “Thank you.”
“I’m not talking about you, but that pitiful Everlasting Lamp. Who cares if you fall?”
Thales raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes in the darkness, where no one could see.
“The ventilation here is awful. We’ll suffocate if we use torches.”
Kurtz, who was leading the way in front chuckled.
“And it’s also too dark in here. If your Everlasting Lamp is broken… Well, you won’t be able to get back without light.”
‘Speaking of which…’
A thought appeared in Thales’ head. ‘I actually have a way.’
He cackled mischievously in his heart.
The Sin of Hell’s River responded to his calling and surged into both of his eyes.
As the blood in the veins around his eyes boiled, Thales discovered to his satisfaction that the pitch-black area before him slowly turned bright.
He could also hear the sounds in the cave now, even though they were just the faint moans of the wind as they moved about in the cave.
Thales found that his field of vision had become much brighter. He could now avoid plenty of the obstructions that could not be illuminated in the darkness.
Hence, he quickly caught up to Kurtz. This caused the seamstress to see some value in him.
“You’re catching on quite quickly!”
Thales could not help but feel somewhat pleased with himself. He began to pay attention to the environment around him.
“Oh, there are even words here?”
Thales climbed up a relatively flat rock. He could see some strange words on the rock wall with the help of the Sin of Hell’s River.
Kurtz, who was searching for the path ahead asked in confusion, “How is it that I never noticed them?”
Thales paused. The Sin of Hell’s River continued to surge in his body.
He squinted and touched the words engraved into the rock wall.
“August, twentieth… Livestock, foodstuff…” he read the words on it in a soft voice.
Thales’ expression turned serious.
“The Ancient Empire.”
Kurtz climbed up a protruding rock and curiously asked, “What?”
“Words. The words on the stones are of the national language of the Ancient Empire. This writing style… isn’t from the Final Empire. It’s from the Ancient Empire, from an earlier time.” Thales blinked. In his bewilderment, he remembered Gilbert teaching him the Ancient Empire alphabet a long time ago. “This tunnel must be at least one thousand years old, and it may even be from an earlier period of time. At least, at that time, Northland was still under the Ancient Empire’s rule… No.”
Thales saw a new sentence, the rejected his own theory. His curiosity had been sparked, and he said excitedly, “There are some words that aren’t that old. I noticed that there are some words and grammatical structures from the common language fused into this. It seems to be a record of restocking military supplies and reserves. This is indeed the language used by the Empire during the final stage of the Empire’s era.
“From the Ancient Empire to the Final Empire.” Thales stared at the wall with a myriad of emotions in him. “Looks like the Black Track has quite the complicated history.”
The seamstress appeared to be doing something that required a lot of her strength. She was probably climbing the walls, which was why she answered him dismissively, “Yeah, it’s really… really com-complicated. Now, move your a** and continue walking, Mr. Scholar Thales!”
Kurtz finally climbed up a huge rock above them and panted, then she poked her head out of the edge and extended her arm to Thales, who was still below her. She said impatiently, “Now give me your hand, I’ll pull you up.”
Thales cocked an eyebrow, then cast a glance at the figure above him before he continued to move forward. But he immediately froze.
Thales raised his head again. He looked at Kurtz in incredulity.
The Everlasting Lamp only lit up a small area of the wall around her. The remaining parts were swathed in darkness.
When he saw the sight before him clearly, Thales was shocked!
He blinked in a daze. With the vision granted to him by the Sin of Hell’s River, everything was as bright as day to him even if most parts of the area were dark. In his line of vision, he saw… a person suddenly appearing on the wall above Kurtz’s head.
He was dressed in an armor from ancient times. He had complicated braids in his hair, and his face was thin. He had his mouth open, and his eyes bulged out. He had no pupils. There were only whites in his eyes.
He was just like a corpse.
As a faint chill ran up his spine, Thales noticed that there was only darkness, and the golden light from the fire in this dark Black Track. However, the man was filled with color. He had on him a dark green pauldron, a brilliant silver gorget, a dark red belt, and even his weapons were easily distinguished by their color.
But that was not the most bizarre thing. The man, who seemed like he was embedded into the wall above them, had his face facing the wall. It looked as if he was going against gravity. He lay there with his face up above Kurtz’s head.
During that moment, Thales felt his entire body become rigid. He suddenly remembered the other illusory world. In the dorms of his school, his dorm mate who slept in the bunk above him had fed him stories about another ‘person’ sleeping back-to-back with him while he slept.
‘Why now… They know… that I’m afraid of such things the most…’
Kurtz shook her arm impatiently and said, “Have you lost your mind or something?”
The next second, the man moved.
He slowly bent his neck down, little by little in a very rigid manner. It was as if his neck had become rusty.
Thales began to feel his skin crawl, and he felt another chill creep up his spine.
Supposedly having bent his neck as much as he could, he began to turn his white and pupil-less eyes the next moment. He gazed at Kurtz beneath him, all while showing no signs of life.
He gradually moved the muscles on his thin face and curled his lips into a cold, rigid smile, revealing sharp as well as abnormal, rusty-colored teeth. With a hoarse voice, which sounded like his voice box had been torn, he hissed a string of words.
When he heard these very much dragged out words, Thales froze.
It was the Ancient Empire’s national language.
“Aaa… liiiiviingg… peeersoooonn…”
But Kurtz only had that same look of impatience on her. She was completely unaware of the thing only a few inches above her head. “Are you coming up or what?”
It was as if she did not hear those words.
Thales took a deep breath and lowered his head to stop himself from shuddering.
‘Now, how am I supposed to tell Kurtz about this? You have a… a… Above you…’
Thales took a few deep breaths, and with every ounce of his power, he chased away the fear.
He made his decision.
‘There’s nothing scary about this. It… It’s just… It’s just a… It’s just a ghost!’
Feeling indignant, Thales gritted his teeth, opened his eyes, and raised his head!
But he was taken aback again.
There was only a layer of black rock above Kurtz now. It was completely empty.
That man lying on the ceiling, that colorful ghost was gone, like it was never there in the first place.
Kurtz looked at the dumbstruck Thales with a displeased expression. The light illuminated her side profile and the walls in the tunnel.
“What are you daydreaming about?”