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Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
As soon as Zakriel said that, the entire hall immediately fell silent. It was hard for Thales to describe the atmosphere in that moment. However, he clearly saw that the reactions of the prisoners from the Royal Guards differed.
Bruley looked like he was struck by a thunderbolt. His entire body trembled slightly and he could not stop sobbing. Tardin shut his eyes in anguish and appeared to be in agony. Canon and Naer had apathetic gazes, as though they already expected this.
Barney Junior stared at the ground in a daze. He did not move at all.
“So, in the end, you admitted it.” Samel sneered as though he could finally vent the resentment he had kept in his heart for a long time. “Zakriel, you…”
Zakriel was silent.
“No…” Beldin raised and lowered the weapon in his hand a few times. He seemed to be in disbelief. “Was it, was it really you, commanding officer?”
He furrowed his brows extremely tightly, sported an indignant expression, and wanted to ask for help from every one of his companions. Nalgi stared back at him in a daze, and subconsciously shook his head.
Quick Rope seemed to be quite shocked as well. He muttered softly to Thales, “My God… they’re right. All you Constellatiates really do have lots of schemes… There weren’t that many troublesome things going on with the White Blade Guards—”
Thales smiled stiffly and ignored him.
“There was already something clearly off with him when I interrogated him earlier.” Samel cut in coldly with a strange bitterness in his tone. “And now… does anyone still doubt it?”
The prisoners cum former Royal Guards were silent for a while.
As he watched everything, Thales suddenly understood something.
When Quick Rope freed Barney Junior and the others, the seven former Royal Guards saw through this imposter Wya. But these seven ruthless men did not choose to immediately get rid of the incompetent liar, because Quick Rope—who fancied himself as clever—also provided one more exaggerated piece of information:
That Zakriel was going after the prince to kill him.
It was ironic, but on some level, it was Quick Rope’s big mouth that saved his life. Because of that, the seven former Royal Guards followed Quick Rope with ulterior motives in mind. They did not do this just to fulfil their pledge and protect the Jadestar bloodline, they also wanted to confirm their suspicions; they wanted to confirm whether the nightmare that had tortured them for over ten years was because of Zakriel.
Now, their wish was finally granted.
Naer’s harsh voice rang out, “Confess to your crimes, Zakriel. No matter what your reason was, come with us and confess to His Majesty. No matter who you have sinned against, confess your crimes to them.”
The logistics officer looked like he was struggling to control himself, and his face darkened when he said the name ‘His Majesty’.
“Clarify the truth, and regardless of whether they are alive or not right now, help declare your brothers in the Royal Guards innocent, after they had to bear this stigma for eighteen years…
“…then receive the verdict and punishment which belongs to you.” He uttered the last phrase forcefully.
The Knight of Judgment himself seemed especially calm despite being the focus of the scene.
When he heard Naer’s words, he paused for a while before he quietly said, “I can’t.”
The expression on all the Royal Guards changed. There were even some who subconsciously placed their hands on their weapons.
Zakriel’s face was hidden in the darkness, and his expression could not be seen clearly. Only the brand of criminals on his forehead was illuminated by the flames. The brand itself seemed strange in their eyes. His eyes reflected the faint light of the fire. When he looked at Thales, it made the prince uncomfortable.
“Like I said, I have to complete an unfinished business.”
‘Unfinished business.’ Samel let out a soft snort. “It seems like we still need to resolve it with violence.”
However, Zakriel did not move at all.
It was as if he had already sunk into a bottomless abyss. He did not hear Samel’s words, and neither could he provide an answer. This made the already anxious Thales even more unsettled.
Tardin, who had his head lowered all this while, did not seem able to bear with Zakriel’s silence anymore. He took a step forward and growled furiously, “Unfinished business? Bullsh*t! Watchman Zakriel!” Tardin’s growl reverberated through the hall.
He seemed angered in the face of such a calm Knight of Judgment, and he was incredibly irritated. “Do you really know what you’re doing? Don’t tell me that you already went mad eighteen years ago!”
Zakriel stirred a little. ‘Already went mad… eighteen years ago?’
He raised his head and revealed an extremely calm expression under the illumination of the firelight. He focused his gaze on empty air.
‘Maybe…’ He curled up the corner of his lips, forming the ghost of a smile. He actually looked like he was talking to some invisible person. ‘I must do this. I must…’
When he saw this, Tardin became even angrier. “You bastard…”
But a calm order cut off everyone’s thoughts. “Silence.”
It was Barney Junior. All the Royal Guards turned and waited for their chief vanguard to speak. Some were indignant, some were tired, and some were in agony.
The chief vanguard seemed to be in a stupor. He stared at the ground with a numb and empty gaze, and did not move. Only his heaving chest proved that his mind was still clear.
Barney Junior slowly raised his head, but his voice was apathetic and empty. “Zakriel, do you still remember how our old captain died in that fight in the Hall of Stars?”
Zakriel’s breath stopped for a fleeting moment.
‘Our old captain…’
When they heard this title, the Royal Guards, including Samel, were strangely quiet. Thales could sense a slight hint of sorrow from them.
“Do you still remember how Tony died of exhaustion? How my father faced dozens of enemies alone?” Barney Junior stopped talking, as if he could not continue anymore.
Zakriel was silent for a long time. His heavy breathing could be heard clearly.
A few seconds later, Barney Junior said falteringly and in a hoarse voice, “And the others, so many people who formed close relations with us and thought they could entrust their lives and belongings to us… they died that year. They died because of your betrayal.”
Zakriel’s grip on the axe hilt loosened slowly. The axe fell hard on the ground.
He leaned against the axe, putting all his weight on it. His chest rose and fell slightly.
“Of course I remember.” The Knight of Judgment’s shoulders trembled slightly. “I remember everything.”
Barney Junior stared at him dazedly. His face slowly contorted, and he stared at Zakriel in disbelief.
“You remember… and you admit it so easily, Zakriel the Traitor?” Barney Junior’s voice trembled a little, but as he continued to speak, he flashed a smile. “Oh, Sunset Goddess, you look as if… you’re just saying that you ate my lunch or something.”
Zakriel opened his mouth like he wanted to speak, but in the end he did not say anything.
As Barney Junior spoke, he bent down as though he had recalled something interesting. He laughed.
“Ate my lunch… Hahahahaha…” His laughter was very unpleasant and ear-piercing. It echoed in the air between the walls.
However, Zakriel did not laugh, neither did all the Royal Guards.
Thales could feel that the atmosphere around him at this moment was like Barney Junior’s smile—filled with extreme anguish.
Barney Junior finally had his fill with laughing. He slowly straightened his body, but his smile—which looked forced—remained on his face.
“The way you behave right now reminds me of… My God, it’s like our suffering and torment for the past eighteen years in this prison means nothing to you, not the pain our thirty-seven deceased brothers had to endure, and not even Samel’s suffering.”
The expressions on all the Royal Guards were sorrowful. Nalgi even pressed his hand against his forehead in agony.
Barney Junior’s smile turned chilly. “Because for you, this is just something you mention in passing after filling your belly, isn’t it?”
Zakriel pursed his lips. Barney Junior took a step forward. He was still smiling, but there was deep sadness in his words.
“You were in charge of handing out judgement and defending our inheritance. You were supposed to be our example, Zakriel.
“How many young Royal Guards regarded you as their idol and spread the word about your achievements? How many people wanted to catch up to you, defeat you, and surpass you?”
Beldin gazed sadly at Zakriel. He shook his head slowly.
The Knight of Judgment seemed deep in though for a moment. His face went paler and paler.
Barney Junior forced back his tears. His tone was starting to become aggressive. “You were supposed to be what every single one of the Emperor’s Praetorian Guard aimed to be!” He pounded his chest hard. “Including me!”
Barney Junior trembled and his smile turned cold. “But you chose such an ending to your life as a Royal Guard? This is how you fulfill your Praetorian Oath?”
Zakriel inhaled deeply and closed his eyes tightly as though he was fearful of what he would see if he opened his eyes.
“That’s not all.” Barney Junior stepped forward. His expression was fierce and his voice was severe. “You pushed His Majesty into a death trap, making sure that he would never be able to continue his cycle of life and death; you pushed the kingdom into a chaotic abyss, making sure that it stayed sunken; you pushed your companions into a dark pool of filth, making sure that they were eternally doomed.
“You trampled the Praetorian Oath—which we swore to live by—under your feet, and cast it aside like an old shoe.”
With a complicated expression, Thales watched the confrontation between the two former Royal Guards who held the highest positions in the team. He had more and more questions in his mind.
Zakriel’s shoulders sank lower and lower. Thales could even see that his eyebrows were twitching as if he was experiencing a nightmare.
Barney Junior stared at him in disgust. “Tell me, Zakriel, how do you go to sleep every night, especially when your hands are covered in your companions’ blood, when you bear a blood debt to your king on your shoulders, and when your mind is filled with the color of blood from that year…
“Doesn’t your nose feel irritated every time you breathe in the stench of blood on your body!”
Finally, when he heard this, the pale-faced Zakriel opened his eyes as if he just woke up from a nightmare. He could not support his body anymore, and knelt on one knee while he leaned on his battle axe.
“Aaaahhhh!!” the Knight of Judgment roared in pain. “I know!”
He tightened his right hand around the axe hilt and pressed his left hand hard against his forehead. The twitching of his eyebrows became more and more intense, like he was going through the most violent battle. Everyone stared at Zakriel as he acted in such a manner. No one made a sound.
Thales sighed internally. He knew that the Knight of Judgment’s mental state was not very stable right then.
‘He’s probably… seeing “another world” again. But there’s a reason behind everything. I wonder, for what reason was that other world of his formed, and how does it present itself to him.’
As he thought of this, Thales suddenly had an idea. ‘Wait. This might be… a breakthrough?’
“I know…” A few seconds later, Zakriel’s tone turned humble. He sounded like he was pitifully begging for forgiveness. “But I had to do this, I had to do this…”
He opened his eyes and kept repeating this sentence as he held his head. His emotions slowly stabilized. “I had to…”
But the next moment, a sword blade that shone with cold light shot at him!
Thales was immediately shocked. ‘Wait, I still have something I want to ask!’
Nalgi could not help but scream, “No, Barney!”
At this crucial moment, Zakriel, who was in agony, was like a wild beast whose territory was breached. He subconsciously brandished his axe!
As metal clashed with metal, he took two steps back. Even though he was flustered, he managed to parry this fatal strike in time!
The Knight of Judgment panted loudly and looked at Barney Junior, who trembled as he held his sword. The latter was also emotional and his eyes were bloodshot.
‘No.’ Thales frowned. ‘I can’t let this situation continue. The hatred and anger between them will drown their rationality. Moreover, I still have things I want to know.’
Once he thought of this, Thales suddenly shouted, “Zakriel! What was it that you ‘had to’ do?”
The prince’s sudden words halted Barney Junior’s sword. Nalgi could not help but turn to look at him.
Thales ignored the other people’s gazes and continued to speak, “What reason could it be which ‘forced’ you to betray Constellation?”
‘I have to make Zakriel speak. Right now, he’s emotionally and mentally unstable. This is my only chance.’
Thales coldly said, “What ‘forced’ your hand? Was it because of the ‘Dragon Breaker’? Because of that weapon the Two Empresses feared?”
When the prisoners interrogated each other just now, Thales had a feeling he found the topic which centered around their questions: the Bloody Year.
All this while, this period of time in the past shrouded Thales’ life like haze in the sky. It was as if there was a thread from this particular moment in history which controlled his fate from afar as part of some cosmic plan.
Every single moment brought him the kind of panic and fear one felt when sailing alone, drifting up and down the waves, lonely, and unable to control the boat.
Hence, at some point in time, an impatient desire and impulse to know the truth about the Bloody Year rose in his heart. That desire surged inside him like a flood. It occupied Thales’ brain, and he could not stop it. It made him burn with impatience.
‘What actually happened during the Bloody Year? What did the deaths of everyone in the Jadestar Royal Family mean? What did it have to do with the Dragon Breaker, the Blade of Purification, the calamities… and me, who had yet to be born?’
‘The Dragon Breaker…’
When he heard this, Zakriel looked as if he remembered something, but he only stared at Thales in a daze, and did not reply.
When he saw this, Thales could only grit his teeth and recall the first time he met Zakriel.
‘This is the only chance; the only chance to dig out the truth!’
“Do you remember the rotten faces with the maggots and flies on them, Zakriel?” Thales asked coldly.
This sentence was very baffling, but Barney Junior saw in shock that upon hearing Thales’ words, Zakriel, who had been as stubborn as steel, suddenly swayed!
At that moment, the Knight of Judgment’s entire body trembled and he was drenched in cold sweat. He widened his eyes and stared at Thales incredulously.
Thales suppressed the pain inside him which came from not actually having the heart to do something like this. He continued adding more details from the ‘other world’.
“Yes, think about it. There were also countless human heads scattered all over the ground with spears pierced into them. Think of the things they tell you every night.”
Thales increased his talking speed, hoping that Zakriel would submit to the pressure soon.
“Are those your brothers from the Royal Guards, who died because of you?”
As everyone stared at the duo, unable to believe their eyes, the frightening Knight of Judgment seemed to be thrown back into his nightmare because of Thales’ words. He subconsciously took a step back and stared at the vacant darkness. His face was full of terror.
Other than Samel, everyone else was shocked, because this was the first time they saw Zakriel act this way.
“And what of the hanging bodies that cover the entire ceiling? Their long tongues sticking out of their mouths, the whites of their eyes showing, and swaying continuously above your head… What of the cries of the babies, ringing at every moment without stop? Can you see and hear all this?”
Zakriel’s axe fell to the ground. Everyone watched in shock as he held his head in his hands. His face was ghastly pale, and he panted violently as he knelt on the ground.
“Tell me, Zakriel. What actually happened eighteen years ago?” Thales braced himself and said in a loud voice, “What made it so that you had to betray the late king’s trust, massacre the Jadestar bloodline, harm your fellow guards, sacrifice the innocent, stain your own glory, and in the end force yourself to live through these frightening days where you have to confront these faces, heads, hanging bodies, and the unending cries of infants every day and night?”
The next moment, Zakriel sounded as if he could no longer bear hearing Thales’ words. He pressed his hands against his head hard and growled in pain.
Everyone was shocked.
“You don’t understand!” Zakriel lowered his right hand and pounded the ground in agony. “I had to do this…”
His face was contorted, and as he stared at the vacant space before him, his empty eyes were filled with panic. “I had to do this!”
Thales clenched his fists. He resolutely took a step forward, ignoring Quick Rope’s efforts to stop him.
“Why?” The prince yelled furiously, “Why, Zakriel? Why did you betray us?” He cried loudly, “As the last descendant of the Jadestar Family, in the name of the Jadestars who died, I, Thales Jadestar, order you, right here… to tell me!”
Thales was rather worked up. His voice echoed in the area.
The former Royal Guards of Constellation were all surprised. They started evaluating this unfamiliar teenager again with a gaze that was rarely seen on them.
When he heard the familiar surname, Zakriel—near the edge of an emotional breakdown—trembled violently. He raised his head dazedly and stared at Thales. His gaze was helpless and desolate, making Thales feel very horrible.
But the teenager’s strategy appeared effective.
Zakriel said absentmindedly, “I had to do this… because of the late King Aydi.”
At that moment, the former Royal Guards of Constellation, Thales, and Quick Rope were taken by surprise.
“The late king?”
‘The late king… Aydi the Second?’
Thales was greatly shocked. He felt like he had caught on to something. Tentatively, he continued questioning Zakriel, “Everything you did… was because the late king ordered you to?”
Zakriel trembled violently again. “No, it was because the late king”—He shook his head absentmindedly—”because the late king had long since stopped being who he was.”
Thales was stunned again. This sentence was still extremely puzzling, causing the others to remain perplexed despite pondering over it.
“What do you mean?” Barney Junior stared suspiciously at Zakriel, who was obviously not in a normal state. “What sort of crazy words are you spewing?”
A few seconds passed, and Zakriel gradually stopped panting. The agony and madness in his eyes had also faded.
After going through that bout of madness which came and went like a storm just now, Zakriel rather laboriously stood up and shook his head. He became composed again.
Once he regained lucidity, the Knight of Judgment was at first stunned for a moment. Soon, he looked at Thales with a complicated gaze.
“You…” From his expression, he seemed to be aware of what he had just said.
Nevertheless, Thales did not plan to back down. The prince took a deep breath and continued speaking,
“What did you mean, Zakriel? Why was the late king no longer himself?”
Zakriel stared at Thales with a profound gaze.
Unknowingly, the teenager who stood awkwardly among the prisoners had turned from a hostage into a person who was to be protected.
Zakriel closed his eyes. Finally, he let out a sigh.
‘He’s a Jadestar after all… just like them.’
He chuckled as though he had released a burden from his mind.
As he endured everyone’s suspicious and wary gazes, Zakriel opened his eyes and said in a drawl, “As all of you know, after Queen Natalie passed away during childbirth, the loyal King Aydi stayed single for many years… until that day.”
This was an old story that only the senior citizens of Constellation knew. Thales did not manage to register Zakriel’s words for a brief moment.
Barney Junior, however, furrowed his brow.
Zakriel chuckled coldly, but there was a hint of anguish in his voice as well. “That day… King Aydi met an old friend whom he had not seen for years outside the palace.”
‘Old friend?’ Thales still looked puzzled, but the expressions of some of the former Royal Guards of Constellation had already changed.
The Knight of Judgment looked pained as he recalled the past, which had been hard for him to forget.
“His Highness paid no attention to his vassal and children’s objections He insisted on bringing that woman to Renaissance Palace, to marry her and make her his new queen.”
Tardin who stood in front of Thales, reacted. He suddenly widened his eyes. “Are you talking about…?”
Zakriel nodded quietly. His dull voice echoed in the cold, dim underground space. He sounded broken and old.
“Just like this, after an extremely hurried and controversial wedding, we welcomed the new mistress of Renaissance Palace—King Aydi’s second queen.”
“The new queen? Queen Fiosa?” Barney Junior muttered as he recalled the past.
‘Fiosa? Why haven’t I heard it before?’ This unfamiliar name puzzled Thales. He looked at Quick Rope. The latter also looked like he was asking Thales who she was. ‘Strange…’
Thales remembered clearly that he did not see this name in the Jadestar family tomb six years ago.
When he heard this, Samel could not help but interrupt him, “What does this have to do with her?”
Zakriel picked his axe up and turned to glance at Samel. He mockingly repeated,
“What does this have to do with her?” At that moment, the Knight of Judgment’s expression suddenly grew stern.
“She was the source of all misfortune.” His voice sent a shiver down everyone’s spines. He sounded gloomy and miserable as an autumn day. “But no one noticed, be it our old captain, Barney Senior, or even Lord Hansen.”
Barney Junior and Beldin exchanged a look. An ominous feeling rose in their chests. As Zakriel spoke, he seemed lost in his own memories.
“But I should have noticed. As the watchman who was in charge of the Ancient Books of Inheritance, I should have noticed a long time ago.” He slowly tightened his grip on the weapon in his hand. His face was tense. “I should have warned him. I should have protested it to him… But I failed to perform my duty.” The knight revealed an expression of indignance, resentment, and agony.
Thales became even more uneasy. “What do you mean? What did you notice?”
Zakriel did not immediately answer him. He looked up slowly and glanced at Thales, making the teeanger more nervous.
“One day, among the tremendous number of scrolls that made up the Ancient Books of Inheritance belonging to the Royal Guards, I found it.”
No one noticed it, but everyone at the scene held their breaths and stared at Zakriel. They waited for the Knight of Judgment’s answer. Zakriel fixed his gaze on Thales for a whole three seconds.
“I found out that that queen of ours whom we often suspected was not named ‘Fiosa’ at all. The second wife of King Aydi was not some descendant of a declining noble family like what the Jadestar Family archive recorded.”
Zakriel’s dull voice echoed again, but it was filled with hatred and fury. “In truth, she had lived longer then all the Royal Guards of Constellation combined…
“A thousand years ago, during the days before the Empire collapsed, she was already renowned in the world for being good at manipulating human minds and creating illusions.”
At that moment, all the listeners’ expressions changed.
‘What? A thousand years ago? Manipulating human minds?’
Thales was stunned.
The Knight of Judgment continued to speak in a hoarse voice. There was extreme dread in his words, yet his tone was also strangely respectful.
“And at least six hundred years ago, the founders of Constellation used another name to address her. They referred to her with a forbidden name that I could only find in ancient scrolls.”
‘A forbidden name?’
In the blink of an eye, everyone tensed up.
Then, Zakriel uttered the name with a hideous expression. It caused many people to change their own expressions.
“…The Sensory Mystic, Freuland.”
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