Chapter 366: Prince in the Desert
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
Early morning, somewhere in the desert.
When the first rays of the sun shone on the darkness of the land, a monster, wrapped tightly in thick clothing, moved into its shelter under a huge rock, and climbed up awkwardly.
But it was not a natural awakening.
In the dark, the ‘monster’ stretched out its thick limbs and yawned exhaustedly. It yanked off the thick cloth over its face and sucked in a deep breath.
It was actually a teenager wrapped under all layers of cloth. While his head was still dazed, he stretched his hands out on the huge rock.
A cold breeze immediately blew past his palm, causing him to shudder.
‘So cold.’ Thales, who had wrapped himself tightly, shuddered. He rubbed his hands and touched his side. The fire he laboriously lit the day before, using branches and flintstones, had been extinguished at some unknown point in time.
He shook his head with fear lingering in him.
‘Next time, I can’t spend the night on such a high sand dune, the wind is too strong. And even if I had a rock to shield me from the wind, it didn’t work.’
Under the bright sky, the prince leaned against the rock behind him as he thought to himself. He gazed at the endless desert, then spent thirty seconds to clear the sleepy haze from his mind.
During Thales’ six years of education in Dragon Clouds City, almost every scholar who had the privilege of visiting Heroic Spirit Palace to teach the two prominent students described the Great Desert as ‘hot’, ‘sunny’, and all other words synonymous to those two.
‘Damn.’ Thales curled into himself and grumbled in his mind. ‘They must have only heard rumors.’
The truth was that the desert was only scorching hot half the time. The other half, it was cold enough to store ice or even freeze Thales to death.
‘Damn… Serves the Northlanders right for not being able to get into the Great Desert.’
Thales sighed, a well of emotions inside him, and lifted his gaze to stare at the small canyon beneath the giant rock and the endless sand dunes not far away.
Nature was the most wonderful painter. Under the red skyline, the rising and falling sand dunes were golden in color, and their curves were elegant and smooth. It was as though they formed the beautiful curve of a woman’s back down to her posterior while she lay on her side. It gave off an indescribable sense of gentleness.
However, only Thales himself knew the merciless truth of this delightful beauty.
When it was sunrise, the chill of the night gradually disappeared, and there were still a few hours left before noon arrived with its scorching heat. This was what little precious time he had to be on his way.
Thales opened the bag and checked his replenishments.
‘A piece of dry cheese, two small pieces of bread. As well as… the last waterskin.’ He sighed.
Thales pursed his dry lips, endured the slight hunger in his stomach, and stuffed the cheese back into the bag.
He took out what little remained of the bread and chewed on it quietly in the still morning to give himself the energy he needed. He could not eat more until he found the next water source, because it would only make his body consume more water.
When he thought of this, Thales became more stressed.
The prince climbed up and dug a sand pit near the camp. He uncovered a piece of sackcloth and pulled out a few stones from it. He was glad to find that the bottom part of the stone was cold and wet.
The prince happily opened his mouth and sucked the moisture on the surface, treating them as though they were his lovers. It tasted strange, but if he could get a little water from them and did not need to consume his precious water, why should he complain?
The water shortage was not his only threat.
Thales checked the temperature around him, then silently took off the clothes that kept him warm during the night, tied up his luggage, and reached for the embers which only had a little bit of warmth left in them. He smeared the upper half of his face, especially his eyelids, with ash.
When Thales discovered that his vision had turned blurry when he moved for an entire day in the endless desert, the fear and panic in him at that time had been so great that he could practically feel his heart trying to leap out of his chest.
Then he remembered this method. It was said that Northland hunters who stayed outside on the Day Before the Bitter Cold Winter for a long time would occasionally use this trick to avoid snow blindness, and Thales swore on the grounds of his three-day experience in the desert that this method was was equally effective in the desert.
Once Thales finished smearing his face black, he spread out the sackcloth used to gather water and tied it around his head, making sure that every single strand of his hair was wrapped up tightly. Thales did not think that the desert was very hot, even though everyone had told him that the greatest threat in the desert was heat, but once he had his headscarf tied around his head, it was quite useful at shielding him from the sun, serving as a windshield, and for moisturizing purposes.
He carefully examined his outfit from his gaiters to his cuffs. He took out the black cloth Jala gave him and used it as a mask to cover his mouth and nose, exposing only a pair of eyes. He carried his bag and the Crossbow of Time, grabbed two branches which served as staves, then verified that the direction in which the sun rose was to his left.
‘May everything go well today. Please let me find a water source… or help.’
He was ready. The prince had wrapped himself up like a surprise gift. He took a deep breath and walked out of the shelter. He could not help but squint as wind and sand immediately blew straight at his face. It brought with it a chill from the night.
Before him was a large sand dune, Thales cautiously bypassed its center, and searched for a path that had a lower incline, which might mean he had to travel a long distance, but it would do. He avoided the wind as far as possible, climbed up the sand dune slowly, and went over it. On the first day he entered the desert, he had foolishly climbed up and down sand dunes in a straight path. After climbing over two sand dunes, he panted and his legs were numb. The current Thales had finally learned his lesson.
*Whoosh… Swoosh… Swoosh…*
The wind blew against his back. Tiny grains of sand hit the sackcloth behind his ear.
Thales, with the support from his staves, moved forward step by step. When he met a high slope, he made a detour, and when he ran into a low slope, he would go over it carefully.
The sun gradually rose and the cold desert slowly warmed up. He occasionally turned and looked around, only to see only yellow sand. He only heard the wind moaning in his ears, and there were no signs of any birds or animals.
The only plants were the low shrubs and willows with roots that ran deep into the ground. They lay on the sand, still and quiet.
Thales was the only person across vast sand dunes and boundless desert. No other person could be seen. Not even animal carcasses or bones could be found. At least that would remind him of the danger here and he could replace his dreariness with wariness.
Thales shook his head and tried to hum a little tune. He thought of some pleasant things. The prince who had been trapped in a cage for six years read a lot of wanderers’ journals. He knew that in such an extreme environment, the most fatal thing was not the threats from the world around him, but the mental pressure caused by loneliness and panic.
Nothing could destroy a person more than isolation and loneliness.
This was Thales’ fourth day in the desert. He did not know when he had entered the desert.
It seemed that Eckstedt and the City of Faraway Prayers did not draw an obvious boundary to set them apart from the famous Great Desert, such as erecting a border plate that said [Border of Eckstedt] or [Trespassers will be persecuted].
In truth, after the ‘happy farewell’ with the other two people, Thales rode his horse for a day before he first entered the desert—the Land of Barren Rocks.
There was huge bedrock all over the place. The terrain rose occasionally before it fell, and he was offered a clear view over a very large distance.
There were not many low shrubs, but there were not that few as well. This deceived Thales, making him think that he had yet to reach the Great Desert.
He had to go on. He tore a piece of jerky with his mouth and said to himself that he should be able to find the person who was to receive him at the transition point.
Thanks to Silver Shadowman’s blessing, Thales could sense where he was going when he walked on the ground. He headed south all the way, and the slightly taller rock formations in the north slowly disappeared. The number of plants began to decrease, the heat wrought by the sun slowly increased, and his lips became drier day by day.
As he traveled further, he no longer saw barren bedrock, but instead saw gravel of various sizes; from the size of pots to his fist. Fortunately, the quality of the hooves of Northland warhorses were excellent, and Thales was free from the hassle of trudging through the land.
However, as Thales passed a deserted settlement on the road, and shook his head in disappointment when he was faced with an abandoned, dry well, the robust Northland warhorse showed an overwhelming reluctance to continue moving forward.
When it became more and more difficult to control the horse, the second prince suddenly realized something while he had been reciting all his geographical knowledge under his breath the whole way: At that some point of time, he had unknowingly entered a No Man’s Land.
Half a day later, instead of wasting his energy dragging a horse that constantly wanted to turn back and forcing it to carry him on his journey, Thales reluctantly took his necessary replenishments and released the horse. He broke two thick branches, sharpened them into staves, used one of them to lift his luggage and the other to help him walk, then with great difficulty, he continued onwards.
The hard, rocky land was still beneath his feet, and the boundless desert was still in front of his eyes. The wind was getting stronger and the temperature was rising.
As he sped up, Thales frowned. He found that the gravel under his feet was getting smaller, and his footsteps were no longer firm.
After ten hours, at dusk, he looked up after taking a miserly sip of water and found that no matter where he looked, be it the direction forward or the way back, everything around him had long since been replaced with yellow sand.
At some unknown point of time, he had reached the Great Desert.
Thales had this thought in his mind as he looked at everything in front of his eyes with a dumbfounded gaze.
‘The problem is… Who is the person who will receive me from the Secret Intelligence Department? Did I miss him or took the wrong path?’
When he thought about the path he took, it only made him feel lost. Thales hesitated for a long time, and he finally decided to continue moving forward, to follow the direction in his memory and head all the way southeast to find an oasis and look for the Constellation army supply line.
Prior to this, Gleeward and Kurtz of Dragon Clouds City seemed to have foreseen that he would not stop moving even if he escaped from the city. They prepared in advance for the prince gear suited for travel, and Monty’s two steeds were obviously related to the Secret Intelligence Department. The bags on the saddle were all necessary for crossing the desert: water, bread, salt, flint rocks, and included thick clothing and rope. He also had the two staves that he made when he was on his way to this place.
Once Thales finished checking his luggage, he felt that everything would be fine. However, the hellish trip he experienced told him that he had been wrong.
Thales had underestimated the Great Desert, it was far more frightening than he had imagined.
The soft sand on the ground seemed harmless, but in fact was very difficult to traverse. He stumbled with each step. When he climbed a slope, he would often slip down, and it was more difficult to deal with than the snow in the north during winter. Thales even felt like he had not walked more than ten miles on the first day.
The wind in the desert was so strong that Thales would be blown to the ground if he let his guard down. Once, when he climbed a sand dune, he was blown off, rolling and screaming down the dune, and there went his ten minutes’ worth of effort for the climb.
After that, Thales was determined never to go up high slopes again, and he no longer went straight up these dunes. He would rather move along the ripples on the sand, because if he decided to go against the wind, the wind would also go against him.
The terrain in the desert was uneven. There were not just undulating dunes, he would also occasionally encounter huge sandstones and steep canyons.
After much difficulty ‘exploring’ the bottom of a canyon, Thales felt that it would do him good if he stayed far away from them. And so all the way he went thus. The first day, first night, second day, second night… All the way to the present—the fourth day in the desert.
Four days in solitude with no human in sight.
Step by step, Thales narrowed his eyes and tried to move forward. He tried his best to count the number of steps, took off his waterskin every time he moved a certain number of steps, and took a small sip of water to moisten his lips.
At some point in time, the sun rose higher and higher, and his surroundings got hotter. He could even feel that his skin under the thick cloth was sweaty, and his whole body was sticky, wet, stuffy and uncomfortable under those clothes.
But he must not take them off. Absolutely not.
Thales resisted the discomfort, clutched the staves, and walked down a slope with the wind in his favor. He could not help but frown when he looked at the area behind him. He felt as though he had gone the wrong way.
‘Sh*t,’ he cursed in his heart, then jabbed the staves into the sand. He observed the shadow of the staves projected on the ground, then looked back to get a stone before he placed it on top of the shadow.
After he entered the desert and suffered the first day, Thales encountered another problem over all the other problems he faced: The wonderful sense of direction he gained after his trip in the Black Track once made Thales happy thinking that he would never lose his way again. However, this wonderful ability failed after he entered the Great Desert. He could no longer feel the terrain and the direction he took under his feet.
‘It seems that no matter how almighty and omnipotent a power may be, it would still have problems when adapting to a place.’ Thales thought tiredly, ‘If the Desert God really exists, he probably wouldn’t welcome Silver Shadowman.’
When the sun did not shine too brightly and the sand was not hot, he sat down and rested for a while as he tried to identify where he was.
Thales took a sip of water and sighed. It had already been three days.
‘Three days. How much longer? Another three days? How long will it take for me to meet reinforcements? Will I die here? This is really bad. F*ck!’
Thales shook his head and patted his cheek to calm his agitation.
‘Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it.’ Thales admonished himself. ‘Arrive at the next destination first, then think about your next step.’
He was afraid that if he could not find the place, the stress would become too great and he would breakdown.
In fact, because of the long period of solitude, lack of communication, and monotonous scenery, the prince now felt that his mind was starting to turn mad.
His reaction was slowing down and his vision was becoming fixed to only one spot. His emotions were also beginning to grow unstable.
Thales chuckled and shook his head. No… He must not give up. He had to retain his composure until he found a way out.
And ironically, Thales had felt that the desert was not too dangerous during the first day. He had followed the trail of sparse vegetation at that time. At dusk, he had found a small, shallow pool under a huge rock.
There were even a few jackals gathered in a small corner of the pool. Whenever they took a sip of water, they would turn their heads around. It was a vigilant but inefficient way to drink water.
At that time, Thales was overjoyed and felt that he had beginner’s luck, even though he was not playing poker and actually trudging through the desert. He happily slid down the sand dune to fill his waterskin.
But then, when he slipped to the edge of the pool, the ground beneath him caved in suddenly and his feet sank into quicksand!
The frightened Thales struggled, only to find that the more he struggled, the deeper he sank. In just a moment, his waist had sunk into the quicksand.
Thales’ heart dropped.
It was only at that moment did he understand why the jackals would rather gather in such a small corner and drink water in such a miserable fashion instead of choosing to spread around the ostensibly large pool.
Only God knew how desperate the young man was at that moment.
If it was not for Thales activating the Sin of Hell’s River just in time to calm down, force himself to abandon his struggling, settle his body level to the ground, and avoid sinking…
…then the Crown Prince of Constellation would have been a cold corpse in the desert a long time ago.
On that day, he shuddered and pulled out his bow and arrow from behind him. He tied a rope to the arrows, then shot twice—because his first shot had missed due to his hands shaking too much. He shot a strange tree in the distance and pulled himself out of the quicksand as he trembled.
With fear lingering in his heart, Thales chased the jackals away with arrows while they yipped in dissatisfaction. He then occupied that safe corner, shivered, and finally filled his waterskin.
This was the first time Thales came to really understand the dangers of the desert.
Thales, who rested under the sand dune, sighed and dragged his thoughts back to the present. He grabbed the second stone and placed it on top of the staves’ shadows, which had now moved quite a considerable distance, causing the second stone to connect with the first stone.
Thales looked at the way he came from and frowned while he made comparisons with the line formed after the two stones were placed together.
‘I have indeed gone off course. I have to correct it.’
He adjusted his direction to head southeast, grabbed the staves which he had used to determine his direction, and proceeded on his journey again.
The gusts of wind grew stronger. This was another threat of the desert.
Thales gritted his teeth and went over a dune while under the paired attack from the foul stench of his sweat, and the dampness on his skin. He raised his right palm over his eyes and looked for a place with lush vegetation that could be used as a shade, and which might also have a water source.
It was going to be noon soon. He had to be prepared for the next step.
He recalled the first noon he encountered when he had just entered the desert. He chose to camp at the bottom of a large sand dune to escape the sinister sun and the ruthless wind.
However, Thales woke in the afternoon with a mouth full of sand.
In his panic, he spat out the sand and was horrified to find that after shutting his eyes for two hours, the wind had fully covered his legs with sand and would soon cover his hands.
If he had slept for another half an hour…
Since then, Thales had learned that unless he wanted to find a free grave in the desert, he should never choose a place that was too low to rest.
The prince silently recalled the many experiences he had learned after suffering torment over the past few days. Then, he found a resting place—a small tree beside a steep slope.
Thales took a sip of water and moved on.
He struggled forward and felt that his body was becoming dehydrated very quickly. As the sun climbed higher and it became hotter around him, the energy and nutrients required for him to move around would increase exponentially.
‘Take a break,’ Thales thought very solemnly, and forced himself to only think of this goal at this moment. He needed to rest and avoid the hottest few hours in the desert.
The wind continued blowing.
He stared at the yellow sand slowly getting blown off the spot beneath his feet. Thales counted more than eight hundred steps before he finally reached his destination.
He hid under the shade and avoided the scorching sun.
Once he felt the sharp drop in temperature, he sighed and untied his headscarf and mask.
Thales was prepared to take a break, but he was not rushing to find an open space. Instead, he grabbed his staff, struck the ground with it, and pushed the surrounding stones away, preferably as far away from him as possible.
Thales did not forget that the first ‘friend’ he met in the desert was a rattlesnake.
On the second day after he had entered the desert, his exhausted self had wanted to rest under the shade of a tree. He plopped himself down on the ground, and had pressed on a slippery, cold object.
The ‘object’ jumped up quickly from the stone behind him and bit his forearm!
Thales was frightened out of his wits. The rattlesnake was obviously not satisfied that someone interrupted its nap. If it were not for Thales wrapping himself tightly in thick clothes like a madman after experiencing the bone-chilling cold on his first night, that bite would have most probably killed him, although Thales did not know whether the snake was poisonous or not.
When Thales recalled the frightening journey from that day, he subconsciously touched his left arm. The tear on his three-layered sleeves was still there. He carefully swept away the surrounding stones.
Sure enough, after a larger stone slab was lifted, a ‘new friend’ crawled out in discontent.
Thales frowned. He stared at the black scorpion that was half the size of his palm and watched its terrifyingly huge pincers as well as its not very eye-catching tail. He extended his staff, ignored its protests, and chased the scorpion into the distance.
He sat down while panting, then brought out his waterskin and the last bit of food.
Everything before him did not seem to have changed. It was just as the Old Crow had said. There were only three things in the desert: Himself, sand, and more sand.
Thales suddenly understood why the Old Crow mentioned sand twice.
During the past few days, everything that he heard and saw told him that this was a completely different world from the one he knew and was familiar with. It was a world a teenager who grew up in a city’s slums, and had grown accustomed to life on the streets as well as in the castle, would not be able to imagine.
When he thought back on the countless dangers he experienced during the past three, short days, Thales could not help but curl into himself.
‘The heat and cold here are equally fatal. Day and night are equally terrifying.’
In this place, the path to survival and danger existed at the same time in the same place. Usually, the number of animal bones found buried beside water sources—their fountain of life in the desert—would be the highest compared to other places.
He rarely saw living creatures in this place. Even if he had, the habits he was used to seeing in these creatures had changed while they were in the desert. The snakes in the desert never crawled in a straight line, but would bend themselves into the shapes of waves and ‘shoot out’ like a spring while they moved. The strange scorpions would dig into sand, as if they had made up their minds to not venture out unless it was nighttime. The rats in the desert look like they did not need to use their legs, because they rarely ‘walked’ normally. They preferred getting in contact with the sky, and would rather jump when they moved forward. The vultures in the sky would occasionally fly past in a flash as though they never had to stop. They would migrate into the distance every single day. The color of the spiders in the desert was practically the same as the sand itself, it was impossible for him to be able to tell them apart.
He had to be humble in this place. Thales remembered Hicks’ words. He had to learn everything again, such as learning about the jackals by the water sources. From then on, Thales learned that he would at least not make too big of a mistake if he traveled by following the animal tracks.
Thales sighed and ate the last bit of cheese while he started to think about his most dire problem: He was out of food.
It was not that the prince had never endured hunger before. His life when he was in the Abandoned Houses had rarely given him a to chance to be full.
But he was in the Great Desert, and that was the worst.
The person who was supposed to receive him was still nowhere to be found.
It was not that Thales had never tried to search for fruits on trees. In truth, he had indeed found some fruits and melons growing on some strange-looking plants while he was on a slope with the wind against him, and he had been almost unable to suppress his hunger… until he saw a dried-up corpse beside the plants.
Thales rubbed his forehead, feeling that his current predicament was full of suffering. Lord knew what sort of things could still be eaten in this desert.
At that moment, he managed to catch a glimpse of something with the corner of his eyes. The unfortunate scorpion whose nest was occupied still had not left into the distance; it was still poking and jabbing around the area in an attempt to search for another home.
As he watched that scorpion, Thales touched his rumbling stomach and scowled.
‘…No way, right?’