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Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
At this moment, with a troubled heart, Thales smelled the bloody stench while a strange scene was reflected in his pupils:
In the deep and dark Black Prison were the cold dead bodies of the mercenaries. Those bodies were strewn all across the floor between two walls. The blood that was everywhere was tepid and almost formed a puddle. Under the flickering torch that emitted what little light it could, the mix of red and gray in the scene before their eyes gave off a strange feeling.
Standing among the disorder in the hall were seven men who stood with their backs straight, even though they were dressed in rags. Barney Junior was their leader. They were like stubborn reefs that separated the black and red waves as they watched the other side of the hall in silence.
There, the Knight of Judgment faced them without a word. The light from the fire was reflected off his eyes, and the brand of criminals under his bangs was faintly discernible.
In the narrow Black Prison, his body seemed like the endless, lofty mountain ranges. His presence captured their breaths, and he gave off an awe-inspiring, solemn air.
And they could not hope to even touch him.
Zakriel’s eyes swept over them slowly. He was not specifically searching for someone, though every single person who entered his line of vision tensed up, and their bodies subconsciously turned stiff because they felt like Zakriel was sizing them up.
They looked like soldiers being inspected. However, their expressions turned even grimmer… as though the darkness in Black Prison had finally arrived at this moment.
Thales was even more nervous. There were a few times where he wanted to speak to interrupt whatever was going on among them, but he was forced into silence by the atmosphere around him.
Countless ideas flashed through his mind, but none were suitable for the current situation. Thales could only ignore the glance Quick Rope threw at him while he tried hard to force himself to calm down.
“Do not worry. I am not here to execute punishment.” As he watched his tense former colleagues, Zakriel chuckled. His usual dry voice carried a hint of sorrow. “I will never have to do it again.”
Once he said these words, the seven prisoners who also had marks on their faces seemed to have recalled something.
The strong Bruley let out a deep and low grunt, while Tardin glanced at the ground as a corner of his lips curled up. The others, like them, relaxed. Their tensed expressions softened a little.
Except for Barney Junior… He was still like a solid rock who stood proudly in the face of the freezing wind, staring at Zakriel coldly.
The silence lasted a few seconds. The shadows swayed continuously, accompanied by the flames.
Thales and Quick Rope exchanged worried glances.
‘What’s going on?’
He knew that they knew Zakriel, and he was also worried that they might form an alliance, thereby putting him at a disadvantageous position, but…
‘Why did they end up acting like this when they met? But most importantly, what should I do?’
The strange atmosphere worried Thales more and more.
Then, the former Penal Officer Beldin sighed, and the tense atmosphere was broken.
“It has been a long while, commanding officer.” He looked at Zakriel with an expression of anguish.
Upon hearing this term of address, Zakriel took a deep breath. He paused for a second before turning to look at Beldin, who had a complicated expression on his face. There was an unfocused look on Zakriel.
“Yes, indeed,” Zakriel said in a hoarse voice. “It has been a long time.”
‘Luton Beldin.’ Zakriel stared at the figure of the person who was vastly different from how he was more than ten years ago.
The Royal Guards was a group formed by elites, and among them, Beldin was unremarkable. He was always quiet and stubborn, but the old captain liked this about him. At a time where the people were unsettled and lacked order, they needed a penal officer who was mature and reliable.
Zakriel still remembered how cold Beldin’s hands were and how much they trembled when he passed the badge of the chief penal officer to him a long time ago. Zakriel only dwelled in the past for a few seconds before he pulled himself out of the sentimentality of having met an old acquaintance.
His gaze shot through the group of seven to look at the young prince behind them, and he nodded at him slightly.
“Your Highness.” His tone was polite, but somehow, it was cold.
When they saw Zakriel’s strange behavior, the seven prisoners exchanged glances with each other.
Thales thought that this moment would come sooner or later. He ignored Quick Rope’s disapproval—shown by the shaking of his head—and braced himself as he took a step forward.
The prince stared at Zakriel’s long, thin face while he tried to forget how this man had tried to kill him earlier. He asked about the man he cared about most at the moment, “Where is he? What have you done to him?”
Thales watched the Knight of Judgment worriedly and found that there were not many injuries on his body, although he felt glad that Zakriel held a battle axe instead of the shortsword he was most familiar with.
Barney Junior threw a glance at Canon, but the prisoner in charge of scouting merely shook his head.
Zakriel stayed quiet for a few seconds while his eyes sparkled.
“He is in good condition. You can take my word for it. He only needs some time to recover.”
Thales discreetly sighed in relief. However, it was too early for him to rejoice.
Very soon, the Knight of Judgment moved towards him slowly. He looked like a mountain range in the setting sun as he did so. While he spoke in an increasingly stern manner, he moved towards the prince.
“But we….” Zakriel’s words echoed with his steps.
*Thud, thud, thud…*
Every step he took was like the sound of a war drum that made their hearts thump in fear. As more steps were taken, the killing intent in him grew stronger.
“We should go… Your Highness.”
‘It’s time to go.’
Thales’ had been relieved earlier, then face turned pale and he tensed up again.
Barney Junior looked at Zakriel and threw a glance at Thales behind him. Barney Junior scowled.
*Thud, thud, thud…*
Zakriel took a few more steps forward. There were small patches of blood on the blade of his axe, and they were illuminated by the light of the flames. His gaze turned sharp again as he watched Thales intently as if he saw no one else.
Thales gritted his teeth and subconsciously clenched at his sword hilt.
But in the next second, two sturdy and robust bodies moved simultaneously and joined the strange confrontation!
The flames flickered.
Zakriel’s body froze. His heavy steps, which sounded as loud as mountains collapsing, came to a halt. He narrowed his eyes and sized up the blockade in front of him. Thales’ eyebrows twitched.
The blockade was Beldin and Bruley.
Between them, one was unyielding while the other was robust. They formed a block on both sides of the path the Knight of Judgment had to take to reach the prince.
Their eyes glinted, their faces were calm, and they showed no signs of backing down.
Zakriel’s pupils sharpened slowly. His gaze swept over the axe and the spiked mace held by Beldin and Bruley before he looked at the man who stood behind them—Barney Junior, as silent as a statue.
“Is this how you welcome your former colleague and senior commanding officer?” Zakriel’s eyes were fixed on Barney Junior—whose face was blank—and tilted his head. “No hugs?”
Although he seemed to be joking as he spoke, he did not sound light-hearted at all.
Thales noticed that at this moment, the seven prisoners looked tense. They also seemed to be rejecting Zakriel’s presence.
‘What’s the matter? Are they enemies?’
Unexpectedly, in a moment like this, it was Quick Rope who patted his shoulder while he was next to him. He then showed him a smug thumbs-up in secret.
This made Thales even more confused.
However, Barney Junior was quick to provide an explanation for the puzzle. “I do not know how you got out, watchman…”
Barney’s voice was as steady as usual. His head was slightly lowered while his pupils were raised against his upper eyelids. He stared at the Knight of Judgment—who sported an imposing manner—in a frightening way.
Barney tilted his head backwards. “…But when we were let out by the man beside the prince… Attendant Wya Caso, he told us a piece of bad news.”
Barney Junior was then heard saying these words coldly, “He told us that you were mentally-ill, and that you went after the prince’s life with Shadow Shield.”
When these words were uttered, Zakriel frowned. The seven prisoners did not let their guard down. They pursed their lips and exchanged glances with each other.
‘What? Mentally-ill and coming after my life?’
While feeling shocked, Thales threw an enquiring glance at Quick Rope. The latter winked smugly at him and smirked.
Thales could not care about anything else. He lowered his head quickly and asked Quick Rope softly, “What did you tell them about Zakriel?”
Quick Rope looked eager to take credit for his achievement but pretended to be reserved. He stole a glance at Thales while looking confident, and said quietly, “Of course I—”
But he immediately noticed that Nalgi the chatterbox had his sharp eyes fixed on Quick Rope and Thales. Quick Rope stopped talking and instinctively put away the playful look on his face. He puffed out his chest in an awe-inspiring manner, raised his voice, and spoke at a volume where everyone could hear him,
“Of course I told him the truth!”
Thales watched Quick Rope pretend to be bold and loyal. He felt troubled, and then watched Quick Rope look at Zakriel in the distance with fury on his face. Quick Rope even had his fists clenched and was gritting his teeth.
“How can we let the honorable Jadestar die at the dirty hands of a lunatic?” Quick Rope’s righteous yell resounded in the small tunnel.
‘Wh-what?’ The corners of Thales’ lips twitched continuously. Even his nervousness faded a little.
Nalgi watched them like he was watching a pair of idiots. He moved his gaze away. With a strange look on his face, he turned towards Barney Junior. He appeared to be asking for opinions.
But Barney Junior did not say a word. He only stared at Zakriel; Zakriel did not move, he stared at Barney Junior from a distance.
Quick Rope’s echoes disappeared in the air. The confrontation between Zakriel and the seven men continued. The quiet and suffocating atmosphere in Black Prison returned.
After a while, Thales found the air unbearably suffocating and was about to interrupt them when Barney Junior—who had the highest rank among the seven men—finally spoke.
“Watchman, you are not mad, are you?” His gaze showed nothing unusual. His tone was bland, and he addressed Zakriel with the position he once held. “At least, not to the point where you would want to kill the prince…?”
As he listened to Barney Junior’s words and understood the underlying meaning behind them, Zakriel was silent for a while before he quietly said, “It depends on how you define madness.”
He watched Thales like he was looking at something else; his gaze was unfocused. The seven prisoners frowned almost simultaneously.
Thales felt he could no longer continue to stay quiet. If this went on, it was only a matter of time before his secret was revealed.
He cleared his throat. “Everyone, please listen to me—”
However, before he could finish speaking, Barney Junior suddenly spoke up.
“I do not mean to be disrespectful, prince-whom-I-have-never-been-acquainted-to.” His voice was cold as he interrupted the Prince of Constellation brusquely. “However, please remain silent whenever possible to avoid adding to the misunderstanding.”
The interruption was so abrupt that Thales felt like he had been rendered speechless. In his confusion, he looked at Barney Junior who turned his head sideways to cast a glance at him. He thought that Barney Junior’s gaze was terrifying.
“Mis…understanding?” Thales was dumbfounded.
Barney Junior snorted. “Yes.” He pushed down on his sword hilt and cast his gaze on the person by his side. He stared at Quick Rope who was also puzzled, making the latter unable to help but tremble.
“The person next to you posed as someone else and lied to us. This self-proclaimed ‘Attendant Caso’ wanted to cause internal strife between us and Zakriel with his words.” His words resounded in the underground prison, empty but biting.
Thales took a few seconds to process what was said.
‘Posed as someone else, lied to us, cause internal strife, self-proclaimed Caso… Wait a minute. Does this mean…?’
Thales turned his gaze numbly. As expected, Quick Rope was dumbstruck, and he could not believe his ears. He stared at Barney Junior who glared at him with a gaze as sharp as blades. Barney Junior’s gaze was incredibly cold, as if he could see through everything.
At that moment, Quick Rope felt cold sweat trickle down his back. ‘No way…’
“Hey, Thales,” Quick Rope said softly as he put on an ugly smile. He tugged the hem of the prince’s shirt and slowly stepped back. “…I think we should leave this place for a while, so they can catch up without the presence of other people—”
However, when Quick Rope was about to turn around, another two men appeared like shadows behind the novice mercenary and blocked his retreat.
That was not all.
At some unknown point in time, Tardin and Nalgi appeared in front of them, while Canon and Naer appeared behind them. They surrounded Thales and Quick Rope from four directions.
The number of people surrounding Thales and Quick Rope was surprisingly more than the manpower used to intercept Zakriel.
The four of them evaluated Quick Rope with vigilant and scrutinizing gazes. The latter grimaced, the expression looking more unsightly than when he cried.
This unforeseen incident caused Thales’ heart to be thrown into disorder. ‘How did it…?’
“Please stay where you are and do not act recklessly, ‘Attendant Caso’,” Tardin said in a teasing tone while he held a knife in one hand and a sword in the other. He stared at Quick Rope who had an unpleasant look on his face.
Tardin shook his head disdainfully. His gaze was hostile. “Another word of advice, Wya: Your mother, the wife of Viscount Gilbert Caso, is my blood sister.”
‘What?’ Quick Rope’s eyelids twitched. His heart froze.
“She died eighteen years ago because she wanted to protect her young child during the unrest of Eternal Star City.” A sparkle appeared in Tardin’s eyes. He raised the weapon in his hand slowly, frightening Quick Rope into taking a step backwards. “Which is you, ‘Wya Caso’, my dear ‘nephew’.”
‘Nephew?!’ Quick Rope’s face turned paler and more unpleasant.
Even Thales was startled. ‘Tardin is Wya’s… uncle?’
“Clearly, your ‘mother’ is not as ‘healthy’ as you have claimed, and neither should you be chuckling.” Tardin stared at his ‘nephew’ with a chilling look. “And next time, remember to change your Camian accent, liar. Constellatiates don’t talk the way you do.”
As soon as he finished speaking, the seven prisoners glared hostilely at him.
In that moment, Quick Rope’s smile completely froze on his face. As he withstood the prisoners’ scrutinizing glances after he was seen through, Quick Rope cast an innocent and awkward glance at Thales, asking for help.
‘Hmm… Are we about to run into misfortune?’
But even Thales could only sigh quietly from the bottom of his heart. He wished he could slap his head, or Quick Rope’s face. ‘This bastard who thinks himself too smart! Shit!’
Thales sensed that the seven people’s gazes had become skeptical and unfamiliar, he immediately felt incredibly stressed.
Earlier, the unpleasant atmosphere between the seven men and Zakriel had led him to feel lucky. But now, after Quick Rope was exposed and Thales lost the trust of the seven men, he descended into the most dangerous situation again.
On the other side, Zakriel stared at Thales while the latter was surrounded. He stood at a distance and did not say a single word.
Barney Junior snorted and dragged the topic of discussion back to the person in front of him again. “As you see, Zakriel, everything that happened today is highly suspicious.”
Barney Junior gestured with his chin at Thales. “For example, this baffling and mysterious prince, his attendant who is full of lies, and you, who is currently acting strangely.”
His words brought everyone back to the present.
“We trust you, Zakriel, as you never engaged in meaningless madness.” Barney Junior threw a glance at Thales and said softly, “So, why do you insist that this ‘prince’ has to die?
“What made you target him, the last bloodline of the royal family, after you were released from prison?”
When he said his last word, Zakriel’s eyes glinted slightly.
He seemed to have sunk into deep contemplation. He muttered repeatedly to himself, “The reason he must die…”
In that moment, Thales’ face turned ghastly pale. There was anguish in his heart. ‘No. The reason I must die…’
Even Quick Rope also realised that they appeared to be facing imminent danger.
The seven prisoners stood tall and silent in their spots. Two of them blocked the Knight of Judgment’s path, four of them surrounded the prince and Quick Rope, while Barney Junior stood in the center, waiting solemnly for Zakriel’s reply.
Zakriel snapped out of his musing and glanced at Thales. The meaning behind his gaze was complicated and could not be described with words.
Thales felt dispirited. With a sorrowful look, he stared at the battle axe Zakriel held in his hand while the wrinkles on the man’s face rose and fell.
However, something unexpected happened.
Zakriel shook his head impatiently and lightly uttered a sentence, “I will explain later.”
Thales’ heavy heart immediately froze.
As he spoke the last words, Zakriel marched forward without hesitation. He walked towards Thales, shocking the teenager and the seven men who awaited his reply.
‘Explain later?’ Barney Junior scowled.
Beldin and Bruley exchanged glances. They saw the shock and confusion in each other’s eyes.
In the next second, the two former Royal Guards moved simultaneously and raised their weapons.
A cold, sharp blade sliced through the air but soon stopped. The movement was swift and smooth.
The blade was only an inch away from the Knight of Judgment. It forced Zakriel to stop approaching the prince.
“I am afraid that I would rather you explain right now, Zakriel.” Barney Junior watched the other man sternly. “After spending so many years in prison, my movements may be a little slow. Nevertheless, I can still have a long-awaited spar with you to test our skills.”
The atmosphere in the hall grew tense again. Zakriel did not look at the weapon blocking his way. He only lowered his head, inhaled deeply, and smiled vaguely.
‘Oh, Quill Barney Junior. Still as stubborn and determined as ever.’
Beldin’s eyes were dreary as he stood in front of the Knight of Judgment. No other emotion could be seen on him. Bruley’s expression changed constantly; he frowned every now and then.
Zakriel withdrew his gaze and sighed. “If I made myself clear, will you help me…”
This made Thales feel his heart pounding in fear. He looked around, but found to his dismay that the prisoners did not let their guards down in terms of protection and surveillance.
Zakriel swept his gaze over each and every one of his former comrade-in-arms. He hissed and continued,
“…even if it means that you will have to point your sword at the blood of the Jadestar Royal Family?”
His voice was like a razor-sharp blade. It was incredibly biting. As he spoke, the breathing of the former members of the Royal Guards grew disorderly. They frowned.
Beldin subconsciously looked back at Barney Junior. As expected, only Barney Junior remained unperturbed among the seven. He was also oddly calm when he answered, “That depends on how you explain it. There is a reason to everything.”
Zakriel quieted down in the tense confrontation. “Yes, indeed,” he said sadly. “There is a reason to everything.”
His situation reminded Thales of the Knight of Judgment who went berserk in the prison, and spoke to other people from another world.
When he saw that the other man was ready to compromise, Barney Junior nodded his head slowly. Under his signal, Beldin and Bruley lowered their weapons and waited for the other man’s response.
This caused Thales to become even more nervous. ‘That’s right. Zakriel only needs to tell them about my identity as a Mystic…
‘He has always been a highly respected man among the Royal Guards. If he explained this to them, they would have no reason to help me. These Constellatiates are also of noble birth. Their attitudes towards the calamities written in the legends during the Battle of Eradication…’
Thales closed his eyes. The more he thought about it, the heavier his heart became. He even began to think about how he could break through the encirclement by force.
‘But, what will happen to Quick Rope? How about I try using my mystic energy?’
“I regret that you have to witness this, Your Highness.” Zakriel’s voice rang suddenly and interrupted Thales’ thoughts.
Thales opened his eyes but was surprised to see the Knight of Judgment who exuded great killing intent just moments ago wanting to kill him, and was now standing in the distance. He was watching the Prince of Constellation with a gaze that was difficult to understand.
“This is all due to my inability and incompetence.” Zakriel looked compassionate and pained, but still flashed a wrinkly grimace at Thales. It complemented the ferocious brand on his forehead. “But rest assured, this will be over soon.”
He nodded his head slightly, and his tone was gentle as though he was comforting a disheartened child.
“Everything will be alright… It will.”
As Zakriel spoke, he lowered his head slightly. Thales was totally startled.
‘Has he… fallen into that “other world” of his?’
The seven men in confrontation glanced at each other. When Barney Junior saw Zakriel in this state, he grew more impatient.
When he spoke again this time, Barney Junior’s tone was not as polite as before; he appeared stiff, and his tone was unpleasant to the ears.
“Answer me. Is there anything we need to know about this prince?” Barney Junior spoke in a chilling manner, and he sounded like he was threatening Zakriel.
Thales gritted his teeth while Quick Rope fearfully grasped his bow as he stood beside him.
One second… two seconds… The flames waned in the small hall, and the shadows were indistinct.
Finally, Zakriel lifted his head and revealed a cold smile. He uttered a word that surprised everyone, “No.” The Knight of Judgment’s cold eyes swept over them all. “There is nothing that you have to know, Chief Vanguard Barney. You only need to know this: I must do it. That is all.”
In that moment, everyone was astonished. The man who was most affected was none other than Thales himself.
‘Why?’ Thales blinked. ‘It’s obvious that he wants to kill me, isn’t it? Because I’m a Mystic. All he has to do is tell them this reason.
‘But why? Why did he help me keep this a secret? Wouldn’t it be better if he explained this fact, persuaded them with a virtuous cause, and turned them against me?’
Thales watched the other man with a stupefied expression. He could not understand it.
‘Why is this man… so strange?’
Finally, Barney Junior could no longer hold himself back and fiercely yelled, “Zakriel! Don’t force my hand!”
Barney’s yells echoed in the area. As a response, Zakriel laughed softly. “Force your hand? I know, I have been the penal officer for a long time, and have offended quite a number of people.” His gaze swept past Beldin and Bruley in front of him—they were frowning. He then cast a brief glance at their weapons. “But have my personal relations with people fallen to this state?” He appeared to be joking, but also sounded like he was mocking them.
“Including you, Barney. What is it now? Are you still jealous that I snatched away the position of watchman?”
In that instant, Thales saw Barney Junior clench his fists while his face turned pale. Behind him, Nalgi let out a soft sigh while Tardin shook his head discreetly.
When he saw that the situation had turned sour, Beldin exhaled and spoke through gritted teeth, “Sir, it is precisely because you have good personal relations with us that we cannot believe this.” Beldin insisted to use the honorable title to address Zakriel. His face was tense, like he had something to say but could not. He hissed his next words, “That is the bloodline of the Jadestar Family, Sir. The existence of which we swore to protect.” Beldin pointed at Thales and lowered his voice when he said his next words, “Why do you insist on killing him?”
As he heard his former subordinate question him, Zakriel’s smile faded away and his face slowly turned cold.
‘The bloodline of the Jadestar Family. The existence… we swore to protect.’
He paused for a few seconds. No one knew whether we was smiling or not.
“…Because this is my mission,” Zakriel said softly in a warm and calm tone, as though he was saying “good night” before he went to bed.
“That is enough, Zakriel!” Barney Junior’s furious shout interrupted Beldin, who still wanted to speak. “I am not in the mood to beat around the bush!”
Zakriel did not show any reaction as he listened to Barney Junior’s angry yelling. He snorted and nodded as if he was sleepwalking.
This made Barney Junior all the more dissatisfied. “I do not know what you are hiding, but if you think you can brush us off by being vague with your words…”
The atmosphere started to change. However, as Thales listened to how they could not come to an agreement on the secret that was about Thales himself, he suddenly had a feeling.
‘No. They’re not talking about me. At least… not only about me.’
As the conflict grew more intense, Nalgi coughed violently while he stood at the last row.
“Er, Barney? Chief Zakriel?” He reached out a hand to each party and forced a smile, trying his best to do his job at moderating the conflict. “If you ask me, I say we should all calm down a little…”
However, Nalgi wrongly estimated the situation.
In the next second, Thales felt goosebumps on his skin. The person before him moved!
The wind roared as the light quivered rapidly.
“No!” Barney Junior shouted loudly in exasperation.
Thales struggled to open his eyes. What he saw next was Beldin and Bruley, two highly skilled warriors, groaning as they fell to the sides and crashed into the walls.
The person who knocked them down was Zakriel. He had been calm and maintained his self-control earlier, but right then, he turned into the fierce-looking Knight of Judgment who exuded great killing intent again.
He instantly broke through the blockade set up by those two, and with a great momentum that made him seem as though he could make mountains collapse, he charged forward and headed straight towards Thales, whose face turned pale as he was caught off-guard and could not respond.
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