Chapter 54: Sunset’s Spokesperson
Thales, who was quite heavily injured, was piggybacked by a member of the Royal Guards. Despite the dizziness from the rocking, he was advancing at the same speed as the battalion.
The pain in his left shoulder and left arm roused him from his unconsciousness.
'Where am I?' He shook his head with force.
Thales only realized after a while that he could not think straight. He was escorted by the entire team of skilled Royal Guards, led by the cloaked woman, and advanced steadily amid their marching steps.
On the other hand, Gilbert and Jines were walking alongside the cloaked woman. It seemed like they were conversing in a low voice. Thales inhaled deeply, and with fatigue weighing him down heavily, raised his head and looked around.
They passed by a stately, grayish black palace wall which was continuous, long and seemingly endless. The body of the wall was mottled with different hues and worn at some parts. It seemed to have been here for a long time.
With synchronized steps, the Royal Guards reached a gigantic, steel portcullis that was controlled using complicated brake cables. Under more than ten huge city defense ballistae atop of the palace wall, the Royal Guards were only allowed entry after exchanging secret codes with the sentries who kept a tight watch.
Thales opened his mouth dumbfounded. He stared at the starlit and moon-bathed sky in a daze. The ground beneath his feet went from muddy road, to coarse, stone floor, then to beautiful tiles specially paved by some unknown material. The Everlasting Lamps on both sides became increasingly larger, more intricate, and brighter.
When they arrived, a magnificent, pyramid-shaped building that resembled a gigantic slope appeared abruptly before his eyes. Members of the Royal Guards were posted every few yards apart from each other, teams upon teams of patrol soldiers and busy servants nodded in greeting towards them. Thales suddenly realized that they had arrived...
At Eternal Star City's tallest, largest, most magnificent, and also most distinguished building.
Thales' expression relaxed. He lowered his head again.
When he awoke once more, it was the following morning.
Thales realized that he was wearing a set of coarse pajamas and lying on a stone bed with a soft mattress on it.
A little startled, he flexed his already bandaged left hand and left shoulder. Having felt that he was not doing too badly, he lightly leaped down from the stone bed and stepped on the floor that was made of a similar ice-cold stone material.
The icy temperature and crude tactility could be felt from beneath his feet. Thales furrowed his brows. He took a few steps forward and touched the similarly cold stone wall as he sized up the place.
The ceiling was not high, but it was, surprisingly, made of the same stone material as the wall, floor, and bed. It radiated with a faint chillness.
He walked towards the windowsill and opened the wooden window. A cold wind poured in and made him tremble.
Fortunately, the winter sun shone luxuriously from the tall stone windowsill and into the purely stone-made room.
However, compared to the warm Mindis Hall, even the daytime and sunlight could not chase away the uncomfortably cold and wet feeling of this room.
'Just like… Just like in Abandoned House.'
Thales heart stirred, and he recalled the place he stayed at for four years. He looked out of the window.
The boy immediately gasped.
The moment he stuck his head out, he looked downwards and saw the ant-like crowds, carriages the size of nails, houses as small as chest lattices, and streets that looked like fine striations. Without doubt, this room was situated somewhere extremely high up, overlooking the capital city's fascinating scenery.
'Just like my past life,' he told himself.
At that moment, the only door—made of thick wood—in the room was pushed open.
The first-grade female official, Jines Bajkovic, appeared at the entrance.
"Madam Jines?" Seeing a familiar person, Thales immediately felt a lot more at ease.
"Looks like you are recovering well." Jines' face was a little pale and she did not seem to have much energy. However, she was still strong enough to hold herself up.
'This is far more than well…' Jines thought, 'He was just stabbed by a dagger yesterday and today… even orcs don't possess it this ability to recover.'
"By the way, Jines- Erm, Madam Jines!" Out of anxiousness, Thales forgot to use honorifics. He hastily took a step forward. "Yesterday… Yodel and Gilbert…"
Jines extended a hand and cut Thales off. She quietly said, "Don't worry. Gilbert is with His Majesty. They have something to take care of. As for Yodel, he is still alive…"
'Still alive?' Thales was stunned. 'Does it mean that…'
Jines seemed to have realized that her words were a little too much. She immediately corrected herself, "He was struck by a few crossbow arrows and is recuperating now. Yesterday, it was also thanks to his timely warning to His Majesty's other secret protector that the Royal Guards could arrive in time.
With complicated emotions, Thales sighed in relief. 'Fortunately… That wasn't the last time… The Masked Protector... lived.'
Thales then recalled his conversation with Yodel last night.
The question that Yodel did not answer, and the myriad of doubts associated with him.
Thales also thought of the innocent children who were killed in Abandoned House and his heart darkened.
'Why… Why did Yodel just stand by and watch them die? Was it…?'
Thales sighed. No matter what the answer to the question was, after last night's alarming and dangerous incident, and after Yodel sacrificed his life to save him…
But the matter stuck to Thales' heart like a thorn, making him unable to forget.
Thales knew that he would be unable to trust Yodel without any doubt or hostility anymore. He would no longer be able to trust him like when he first met him.
Thales shook his head and shifted his attention back to Jines' words. 'Wait, the OTHER secret protector?'
Thales thought of the young, cloaked woman. He kept this information in his mind. Before he could digest this, the thoughts in his mind jumped to another matter. "And those assassins, and that Duke Covendier…"
Jines' gaze became stern, and it reminded Thales of those days where they trained vigorously. She said, "That is not something that you should concern yourself over. Everything is already settled. Those questions will soon no longer be questions anymore… and, you should believe in your father."
With difficulty, Thales recalled this unfamiliar term. It was not that he did not care, but from Red Street Market to Mindis Hall, he had only met his supposed 'father' only once. Not to mention that he had treated Thales in that strange manner.
Thales clenched his fist lightly. Another question surfaced in his mind. "What about you?"
Jines was slightly stunned. "Me?"
Thales raised his head, took a deep breath, and put on a worried expression. "Yes, what about you, Madam Jines? On the carriage…"
Watching Jines' increasingly unpleasant expression, Thales clenched his teeth and spoke, "I noticed your anomaly… When facing those assassins, why were you… behaving so strangely?"
Thales saw that the normally calm and confident Jines was trembling slightly after hearing those words, as if she was recalling the most terrifying memory ever.
Thales watched her in a daze. The female official's face twisted, and she looked as if she was struggling against her shivers while her face turned pale.
Thales furrowed his brows.
A few seconds later, Jines heaved a sigh and loosened all the tension on her face, looking like the usual cold female official once more. It was as though everything just now was an illusion.
Jines stared at the bewildered Thales with a flat stare. 'This little brat is so sensitive.'
The female official snorted softly and spoke once again in a formal tone. However, her face became tired and bitter. "I asked the servants to prepare hot water and breakfast. Tidy yourself up, we still have something important to do."
'As though nothing had happened… She is deliberating avoiding it.' Thales furrowed his brows.
However, Jines glared sternly at him, as if giving him a warning. Thales could only shrug. "Alright, then… wait."
"Servants?" Thales was stunned for a moment. He immediately turned his head and looked around the room that resembled a coffin more than a bedroom. "So, we are at…"
Jines nodded tiredly. "Yes, you are at Eternal Star City's biggest and most important building—the palace of Constellation's past supreme kings."
Jines said the following name in a deadpan manner, "Renaissance Palace."
Thales opened his mouth wide and thought of the gigantic pyramid-shaped building he saw yesterday. 'No wonder the room is so high up.'
He then furrowed his brows and looked around. The mottled wall, dull color scheme, dim lighting, low heat, hard slab stone, rough floors, and narrow room. Compared to Mindis Hall, this place looked like the slums.
Jines saw Thales' gaze.
"What? Are you not used to it?" She crossed her arms and observed Thales' expression with interest.
"No, it's not that." Thales immediately waved his hands and shook his head. He wanted to say something, but in the end, he only sighed and lowered his head.
In truth, he wanted to say that he had the soundest sleep ever over the past twenty-something days. The hard and cold bed along with the rough and uneven floor allowed Thales to feel a sense of security the soft bed and blanket in Mindis Hall could not offer him.
'I see…' Thales realized sadly. '... I slept best throughout my four years as a child beggar in the harsh and vicious Abandoned House.'
However, by speaking the truth, Jines obviously assumed that he was being stubborn. She smiled gloomily. "I know what you are thinking. You are right.
"The supreme king's palace is not as magnificent, luxurious, intricate, and as stately as you have imagined."
Jines walked towards the window and fixed her gaze on the countless citizens of the kingdom below the towering Renaissance Palace.
"It is the opposite… Renaissance Palace, which is the alleged center of the kingdom, could not even measure up to a normal citizen's room…"
The next moment, Thales saw in a daze that the arrogant, domineering and tough female official was speaking in a desolate tone, "Very narrow. Very tall. Very cold."
Jines turned and looked at Thales with a complicated expression, she said, "And very dark."
Walking behind Jines Bajkovic, and stepping on the hard and rough stone floor unique to Renaissance Palace, Thales passed by countless rooms that were similarly narrow, cold, and dim.
Along the way, all the guards and servants they met lowered their heads in salutation when they saw Jines.
The lighting in this half, pyramid-shaped palace was so bad that lamps had to be used during the day to illuminate some of the more remote corners. Due to the height, cold air kept seeping in through the cracks. The only redeeming feature of the place was that it was often hard for insects to survive in such places. The narrow walkway and low ceiling made the palace's atmosphere repressive and unpleasant. Sometimes, it almost seemed lifeless.
'This place…' Thales stuck his tongue out and marveled inwardly. 'Does not look like a palace at all. It looks more like a mausoleum.
'Weren't the Egyptian pyramids from my past life a royal mausoleum that had countless years of ancient history buried beneath it?'
"We have arrived." Jines suddenly stopped, speaking coldly and slowly.
"Arrived... where?" Thales, whose mind had wandered just now, suddenly noticed that they had reached an empty and dim stone corridor. There was a double-hung door in front of them.
Jines did not answer him. She only nodded at Thales with a profound expression. "Go inside, child. Be more polite."
"What sort of…" Before the stunned Thales could finish speaking, Jines pressed on the stone door and abruptly pushed it open.
Thales watched the scene behind the stone door in shock. It was a dark room, and only a few corners were illuminated by Everlasting Lamps. The Everlasting Lamp in the center was held in the hands of a… woman who had her back to him?
While Thales was still in shock, he was pushed into the room by Jines.
The stone door was closed shut.
When Thales was finally able to stand steadily, he realized that he was locked by Jines inside this stone chamber.
"So it's you, brat?"
Right then, a wholesome, pleasant, gentle and charming voice rang from the center of the room.
Thales turned his head in bewilderment and looked towards the woman, who had her back to him. Holding an Everlasting Lamp, the woman slowly turned. Thales' eyes brightened.
It was an oval-faced beauty, with bright eyes and white teeth, appearing thirty-something years old. Compared to the charming and mature Jines, she lacked a valiant and disciplined bearing. However, she was lovelier and more captivating.
She had a dark-colored veil on her head and wore a robe adorned with half a red sun.
'Wait, half a red sun?'
Thales was stunned. "You are… Sunset Temple's priestess?"
"Sunset Temple? Hahaha…" The beauty chuckled lightly. However, not only did Thales not feel a single ounce of tenderness in the laughter, he even sensed a hint of coldness. "Let me look at you carefully, brat."
The beauty approached him leisurely, but Thales frowned, as he could not feel a single hint of warmth nor kindness from her.
He could feel some sort of unsettling vibe from this woman.
The lovely thirty-year-old woman lowered her body before him and narrowed her eyes while observing Thales. "As expected, you have a pair of grey irises, too… Just like your mother."
'Mother?' Thales was stunned for a moment.
"Did you know… Sorry, Madam, may I know if you knew my mother?" he asked, bewildered. At the same time, he remembered Jines' instruction to "be polite" and immediately used honorifics.
The lovely beauty curled her lips, and her gaze was aloof. "Of course. Your mother... hmm... she is a formidable character who is not to be trifled with… Didn't Kessel tell you?"
Thales' breath unconsciously became uneven and said a little awkwardly, "No, madam. Apart from her name, my… my father never told me anything else."
"I see. Alright, you may leave now." The lovely beauty chuckled coldly and shook the Everlasting Lamp in her hand. Their shadows flickered chaotically in the stone chamber. "Tell Kessel that I'm ready."
'Is it over just like that? Jines, or that father of mine, made me come and see her… what does this mean?' But he had to know.
'Because…' Thales sucked in a deep breath. He was almost a hundred percent sure that all the strange things about him were related to that mother of his with her questionable background.
Thales inhaled deeply and bowed respectfully according to the etiquette taught by Jines. "Madam, if you tell me more about my mother, I would be deeply grateful."
The lovely beauty covered her mouth and chuckled lightly. However, her countenance immediately turned frigid, and she spoke with an icy tone, "Even your father didn't tell you. Why should I?"
Thales was immediately at a loss for words, but it was impossible for him to give up so easily, "But… but this is my mother. I have the right to know! And I will repay you!"
The beauty only chuckled indifferently and turned around. "But you're not my son, and I'm not obligated to tell you. And, I don't need you to repay me."
Thales choked once again. From all the people he met, apart from his own 'father', he had never met such a person before. 'This- She is even more stubborn than the king.'
However, a string of thoughts suddenly formed in his mind. 'More stubborn than the king?'
Thales' brain operated continuously. He had thought of something.
He exhaled deeply and looked at that lovely beauty. "I see. I know who you are now."
The lovely beauty turned her head in astonishment.
"I heard my father and Gilbert talk about you before." Thales frowned deeply and recalled in his mind the memory of when he was first rescued by Yodel and brought to Mindis Hall.
He said slowly, "I remember now. You- you are-"
Thales inhaled deeply and raised his left hand, seeing the faint scar on it.
His expression was one of hesitation for a while, but he immediately spoke with resolution, "You are… the Bloodline Lamp… The lamp used to search for my father's kin… you are the one who cast the divine Art! You are Sunset Temple's Head Ritual Master… Liscia!"
The lovely beauty Liscia's face immediately turned ugly and she said slowly, "You are indeed your mother's son. You even inherited the entirety of her guile and good memory.
"You are right, I am Liscia Arunde. The Head Ritual Master of Sunset Temple. The Sunset Goddess' one and only spokesperson in the world, and also the one who would be validating your status as someone who possesses royal blood."