Chapter 58: The Warlords’ Chess Game (One)
Thales was not concerned with anything else. He walked into the dark room in rapt concentration.
The buzzing sound commonly heard from crowds rang from outside the dark room. It was noisy and disturbing.
This reminded him of the football team he used to support in his past life. This is probably similar to the feeling one got when they first walk into the stadium during a live match.
Amid the buzzing sounds outside the dark room, a young and jovial male voice suddenly said, "Hey, old man! Director Lorbec! I am here, here! Hey, Sir, you look a little familiar.
"Wait- You are Kroma Family's… cousin Derek! Oh God, I have not seen you for so many years. What happened to your face? Kasa and Gina must be crying!"
Thales suddenly regained his attention and took a few steps forward. He looked outside through the one-way glass in the dark room. Indeed, the entire Hall of Stars was below him.
The Hall of Stars was an oval-shaped, semi open-air hall. It was at least more than ten meters tall and could accommodate at least a thousand people. The side facing Star Plaza had a protruding balcony instead of a wall. This made the hall look like an irregularly shaped cylinder with one lateral side chopped off at a slanted angle, or rather, like a half-covered cylindrical garbage shovel. Having thought of this, Thales could not help but flash a smile.
At that moment, the hall was already half-full. There were at least a few hundred people in it. Some people were sitting, and some were standing.
The nearer it was to the center of the hall, the sparser the crowd. Their clothes seemed luxurious, they were quiet and composed, and most of them had seats. These were the nobles.
There was a large round table in the middle of the hall that was surrounded by seven stone chairs of obviously different specifications.
Among the unique stone chairs was the throne. The six stone chairs surrounding it belonged to the six guardian dukes. There were thirteen other stone chairs on the periphery of the six stone chairs. They formed a large semicircle and belonged to the Thirteen Distinguished Families.
The six stone chairs were still empty, but some of the thirteen stone chairs were already occupied. The occupants were all men ranging from twenty to sixty years old, and bore different emblems and symbols. Their expressions varied too. There were a few nervous looking attendants behind every seat.
The voice he heard just now originated from the stone chairs belonging to the Thirteen Distinguished Families. A blonde, handsome man wearing an astral blue police uniform stood behind one of the stone chairs. He had a nice-looking face with deep set features. Compared to the fairly feminine Asda and the 'pretty face' Istrone, he appeared more energetic and strong.
However, the handsome man was being hit hard on the head with a staff by a gray-haired middle-aged noble who looked extremely angry.
The middle-aged noble's clothing had a symbol of two tall towers and a long sword on it.
"Kohen Karabeyan, what happened to your noble upbringing? Do you know how to talk like a human! Derek is not only your cousin-brother, but also the head of the Kroma Family—one of the thirteen Distinguished Families! He is the Suzerain of Wing Fort and a count of the kingdom! Show some respect!"
With a face filled with shock, Thales stared at the kingdom's police officer, Kohen Karabeyan, as he massaged his head with clenched teeth and growled at his father, "Old man, the Stage of Eradication is in front of us anyway! Hit me one more time, and we will battle up there!"
A lot of people turned their head towards their direction, but seeing that it was the seat of one of the Thirteen Distinguished Families, they all shook their heads and ignored the commotion.
'Why is this noble family so… weird?'
"Haha, Kohen and I know each other really well. This shows how close we are…" Derek seemed to know his uncle and cousin-brother's daily routine. He immediately waved his hand to signal that there was nothing to fear. On the other hand, Lorbec frantically pulled the old Count Karabeyan, preventing him from furiously waving the staff for a second time.
"By the way, Kohen, even though you are the eldest son of the Karabeyan Family… how did you manage to be let in before your father arrived?" The director of the Western City Police Station, Lorbec Deira immediately changed the topic.
"I am not very sure either." Kohen scratched his head and frowned. "I only recovered from the injury I sustained in Red Street Market a few days ago—old man, put down your staff, we'll talk about this at home—and received an order to be on duty. As soon as I reached the door of Renaissance Palace, seeing that I'm one of them, the people from the city defense team and the police station let me in. Hearing that I'm a Karabeyan, the guards in the palace immediately led me into the Hall of Stars."
Having heard this, his father, Count Karabeyan, the Suzerain of Walla, was stunned.
The old count did not enquire further. Both he and Derek Kroma sat on their respective stone chairs. A few attending knights, Kohen, and Lorbec stood behind him.
Listening to their conversation, Thales made a rough guess that those two families were part of the Thirteen Distinguished Families.
At that moment, the noisy crowd suddenly became silent. Thales' gaze turned towards the other direction.
A distance away, two memorable figures stepped into the Hall of Stars. They were flanked by two teams of attendants as they stepped on the blue star streaked carpet.
The people in front of them automatically moved aside. Some of them bowed in greeting, and others were whispering.
Among the two figures, a plump and rich-looking old man smiled good-naturedly, occasionally responding to those around him. Embroidered on his back was a sword and a shield that were crossed against the background of a red sun.
That was the kingdom's Prime Minister, the Suzerain of Splendid Port City and the Guardian Duke of the Eastern Sea, Bob Cullen.
Beside him, another fierce-looking middle-aged noble in uniform took huge strides forward. His expression was cold and he did not look around at all.
The middle-aged noble wore a chain armor as his upper garment. It could be clearly seen that on his chest, there was a sharp-eyed falcon, spreading its wings against a white background.
He was the Suzerain of Cold Castle and the Guardian Duke of the Northern Territory, Val Arunde.
The Sun Sword and Shield, and the White-Backed Flying Falcon. Their symbols represented the two most powerful families among the Six Great Clans.
"National Conference? This is practically a mockery!"
The Duke of the Northern Territory, Val, had a scar on his chin. His expression was of discontent and he did not bother controlling his volume. He spoke furiously to the plump old man beside him.
"He personally signed and issued a general edict! And then he suddenly… involved the populace in this. This is practically a betrayal! As the Prime Minister, you should stop him!
Around them, all the nobles of minor nobility and intermediate nobility classes who heard the contents of their conversation immediately lowered their heads or turned and left.
Well, excuse them. Who would dare to listen as members of the six Great Guardian Dukes accuse the Supreme King of Constellation?!
The white-haired, jolly and plump Guardian Duke of the Eastern Sea puffed his ruddy cheeks. Wearing an expensive mink skin shawl, he tapped his large, swelled up belly. He spoke helplessly, "Although I do not find it appropriate either, I am unable to stop it as it is His Majesty's will."
Val snorted in discontent. He was not satisfied with the Prime Minister's excuse. 'A fat old man who sits on the fence and has no standing of his own. How did he become known as the "Sword of the Gulf" when he was young?'
As they walked past the thirteen stone chairs, all the seated nobles stood up and bowed respectfully, including the old Karabeyan and young Kroma.
"Even though he is the king we have sworn fealty to, he should not insult us like this!" Val nimbly took off his cape and gave it to an attendant behind him who was obviously a warrior. He then brazenly sat down on his seat.
Val Arunde had experienced many things in life. On the chain armor he wore was the flying falcon on white. It was embroidered on the chest, and it appeared extremely cold. He propped up his left hand in an extravagant manner, and his being exuded the type of sharpness and isolated aura only found in Northlanders.
He did not hide his disdain towards the king at all. "I really feel like knocking out that bastard's front teeth! Just like I did forty years ago!"
Behind his father's seat, Kohen spoke in a low voice, "Even if he is the Duke of the northern Territory, how can he speak about His Majesty like this without hiding it at all?"
"If you grew up with His Majesty since you were young, and almost married your sister to him," Count Karabeyan answered in a whisper, "You can talk about His Majesty like this too."
The old Duke Cullen sighed lightly as he shakily sat down on one of the six stone chairs with the help of his attendant. "Be careful with your words. Soon, the guards will start relaying the messages downwards. At that time, every single sentence spoken from these twenty stone chairs will be passed down to Star Plaza. He is, after all, our king! We can only hope that our remonstrance is useful."
'These Northlanders… it's been fifty years, but they show no improvement at all.' In his heart, the old duke shook his head.
Suddenly, there was a surging uproar. The noises composed of the murmurs from the crowd became louder and louder!
Gilbert's familiar voice rang out, "In the name of the Supreme King of Constellation, Kessel Jadestar…
"Subjects of the kingdom, bow down to your king!"
Thales raised his brows. A group of people entered the Hall of Stars through another side door.
Like roaring waves, the people in the crowds kneeled on a one knee, only standing up after the king was a distance away.
The robust Kessel the Fifth was still holding his scepter in one hand. His expression was cold and authoritative as he stepped into the Hall of Stars. Eight Royal Guards kept a tight watch behind him.
The king immediately became the center of attention. Even though the people were kneeling, the crowd's murmurs did not reduce. Instead, they became louder.
The Duke of Eastern Sea tapped his plump cheeks and spoke smilingly, "His Majesty is here. Why don't you raise your suggestion to him personally?"
"Hmph." The Duke of the Northern Territory snorted in disdain. "As if he will listen to me."
King Kessel walked towards his stone chair in huge strides. At that moment, he suddenly raised his head, and whether intentionally or not, glanced towards the position of the dark room.
Thales clenched his fist slightly. He regulated his breathing and calmed his mood.
'Calm down, Thales, the real show has not yet begun.'
A group of people led by Gilbert followed closely behind the Iron Fist King's cape. Among them was the mature and tall Jines.
It was only then did Thales see that Gilbert's family emblem was that of an open book.
The large-bellied Duke Cullen said with a smile, "Ah, it's Constellation's Cunning Fox, Count Caso. Together with Count Godwin, Viscount Kenney, Baron Gales and Lord Krapen… all of them are the kingdom's future… Our clever and wise female official, Madam Jines is with us, too."
Seated on his stone chair, Val shook his head in disdain. "People from the king's partisan. Hopefully, they will soon understand that the best way to support their king would be to think of ways to stop him from doing crazy things. That is the way to go rather than use every conceivable method to attack the nineteen noble families who are the backbone of the kingdom. As for that bitch, every single second of her being in the palace is an insult to the Arunde Family."
"The king- the king-"
At that moment, an even louder cheer rang from outside into the Hall of Stars! The hall was immediately filled with a deafening roar that boomed from far away.
On one hand, many of the nobles' expressions changed. On the other hand, members of the populace who have some status whispered into each other's ears excitedly. Some even cheered along.
Thales came to a realization. 'It was the crowd outside on Star Plaza cheering.'
Duke Cullen pouted his lips. "I suppose that the guards have already begun passing down the messages to the plaza?"
Val turned his head, his face was pale. Kessel went in front of the thirteen stone chairs and looked at his vassals. The members of the Thirteen Distinguished Families rose and lined up before him. They all kneeled down on one knee to show their loyalty.
Expressionlessly, Kessel extended his right hand towards a noble—whose emblem was the five-pointed star—for him to kiss the ring on his finger.
The king said plainly, "Bern Talon, you are the first one. You are still the first one. You have always been the first one."
"Blood is thicker than water, Your Majesty. The Talon Family is a branch of the Jadestar Family, just like how the five-pointed star will always be part of the nine-pointed star."
Kessel's brow furrowed slightly, but he nodded and walked towards the next noble. His authoritative voice reverberated, making every gaze focus on him. "Smith Sorel, I heard that you and your territory fervently oppose the 'Tax Exemption for the Opening Up of Border Counties'?"
"Of course, Your Majesty!" The middle-aged noble, who had a golden sun symbol on his clothing, kissed the king's ring and shook his head firmly. "How can I allow the nobles' blood to be tarnished?"
Kessel snorted softly.
The king extended his hand towards a noble who had a black lion—baring its fangs and brandishing its claws—embroidered on his chest. "Lewis Bozdorf, the Skillful Black Lion, would he still fight for the pride?"
The noble kissed the king's ring and smiled meaningfully. He gave a crafty reply, "I swear I will fight to my death, Your Majesty. If the alpha lion was still smart and brave, he will always care for the pride."
Kessel nodded and continued walking.
Kessel walked towards Count Karabeyan with a nostalgic expression, "Turami Karabeyan, I remember that you used to be part of the Starlight Brigade, risking your life for John."
Count Karabeyan spoke seriously, kissing the king's ring, "I risked my life for my homeland. Everything is for the peace of Constellation."
Deep in thought, Kessel nodded, then continued walking. "Derek Kroma, you look smarter than your father," he said to the young Derek in a profound manner, "The crow who wanted to save his master even though he only had one wing. Is he still at Wing Fort?"
Derek Kroma—who had a single-winged crow tattooed on his body—spoke cleverly with a neutral face. He kissed the king's ring. "That crow owes his life to his master, and was also raised by his master. That is why he risks his life to rescue his master. Of course, the crow forever belongs to Wing Fort."
Kessel tapped his shoulder and walked towards the next noble—who was half-bald—and extended his right hand. "Hodge Dagestan."
This noble had two long swords, positioned against each other in the form of a cross, embroidered on his clothing. Kessel coldly said, "I still remember that your clan's motto is, 'Forward or backward, survive or fall'. This time, have your people decided on which direction to go?"
The half balding Hodge Dagestan lowered his head to kiss the king's ring, making his expression unclear. "There has always been only one direction. However, people who stand too tall often cannot see it clearly."
Kessel snorted furiously and coldly, not bothering to hide his dissatisfaction towards the other person at all.
This time, the king extended both hands towards two resolute and steadfast nobles. One had a white bear as his symbol, and the other a steel-colored wall. "Wilkos Zemunto, Borette Friess, can Overwatch City and Lonely Old Tower endure the cold wind from the north?"
Wilkos Zemunto, who had a full beard, kissed the king's ring and spoke heroically, "Cold wind? For Constellation, Overwatch City can even block the Great Dragon's flames of fury!"
The bald Borette Friess refused to seem inferior. He kissed the ring with blazing eyes. "Even though Lonely Old Tower stands in cold and roaring winds, no matter how bitterly cold it gets, the furnace fire in the tower will always burn."
Under the king's signal, the two northern nobles slowly stood up.
Kessel walked past all members of the thirteen Distinguished Families who were present, and headed towards the two Dukes.
He waved his hands and stopped Bob Cullen, who was swaying as he tried to stand up. "Forget about it, Prime Minister. Your stomach is practically heavier than my scepter."
The Duke of Eastern Sea was smiling as though he could not understand the meaning behind Kessel's words. He only nodded and thanked the king.
Next to him, Jines took off Kessel's cape so that he could sit comfortably on the highest stone chair.
Kessel glanced at Val, then shook his head, not at all bothered by his attitude. "As for you, I suppose that your knees are afflicted with a strange illness which makes them unable to bend?"
Val Arunde spoke carelessly, his gaze burned with fury. "Yes, when I am facing Eckstedt and the crown of Constellation, I will get this illness!"
Kessel shook his head. "It has been forty years and your sense of humor has not yet improved."
After the Ceremony of Allegiance, which carried a somewhat profound meaning both publicly and privately, the nobles from the Thirteen Distinguished Families returned to their seats.
Gilbert reported with a solemn expression, "Out of the six Guardian Dukes, two are present. Out of the Thirteen Distinguished Families, eight are present. Your Majesty?"
"Wait for a while longer," Kessel spoke steadily.
A deafening cheer rang once again from Star Plaza.
Amid the cheering, Val scornfully said, "All of a sudden, you announced that the Higher Parliament Conference has turned into a National Conference, and you even wanted to hold it at an earlier time. How many noble families, who live too far away, do you think would make it in time? At least, it would be impossible for Blade City's Tabark family!"
Kessel shook his head. His face was expressionless, "This is a chess game between the warlords of Constellation. The players were destined to participate long ago, and the match had also started long ago."
"It seems that the crown has not only made you king, but also a horrible bard." Val Arunde spoke indignantly, clenching his teeth so hard that it made grating sounds. Only the Duke of Eastern Sea smoothed things over with a smile.
In the dark room, Thales suddenly felt his heart clench. He saw a black-robed old man who also held a cane, standing at the back of the 'king's partisan'. Everyone around tried to avoid the old man, except for a young man who trailed behind him. The young man was dressed in a similarly plain white robe.
"Morat Hansen. Why is he here too?" Lord Lorbec, who was beside Kohen, furrowed his brows as he watched the black-robed figure. "My whole body shivers when I see that poisonous snake."
"He is our kingdom's Chief of Intelligence, and a non-voting delegate of the Imperial Conference, it's only natural that he has to come." Kohen furrowed his brows, too. He obviously did not like that person. "However, director, if we go by what you just said, His Majesty and the Prime Minister, who see him every day, should have frozen to death a long time ago… hmm?
Under his father and the director's surprised gaze, the blond haired police officer, Kohen Karabeyan, took quick steps forward. With a furious and indignant expression, he walked towards...
The 'Black Prophet', Morat Hansen!