Chapter 59: The Warlords’ Chess Game (Two)
Under the watchful eyes of the crowd, Kohen strode towards the young man behind the Black Prophet.
The nobles surrounding the thirteen stone seats turned their gazes towards Kohen. The man held back the emotions that he could hardly contain and shouted at the young man, "Raphael Lindbergh!"
The young man dressed in a white robe also saw Kohen striding towards him. He gave a frivolous smile and murmured into Morat's ear before walking towards Kohen.
"You went missing for three years!" Even the two dukes and the king who was sitting high on his throne could notice Kohen's flaming rage.
"Kohen!" The young man's voice was lively and bright, and it was a voice that could arouse fondness from others, just like his appearance. He opened his arms wide open towards Kohen. "You're still so energetic!"
Kohen brusquely slapped Raphael's arm away from him. "Why did you leave without a single notice?"
He glanced at the king's partisans and also Lord Morat Hansen, who stood by himself at the side with no one approaching him. Kohen's voice was tinted with disbelief. "You're following 'the Black Prophet' now? Do you know how much his hands are stained with blood and evil deeds..?"
Raphael laughed, "That's a misconception from the entire world. Sir Hansen contributed greatly for Constellation. He sacrificed a tremendous lot, even more so than any of the other nobles right here with us."
Kohen was stunned and for a moment, he could not find any phrases to refute, so he said, "We can talk about this later. What on earth did you do during these past three years…?"
"Stayed by Sir Hansen's side, listened and followed his teachings." Raphael still looked as nonchalant and relaxed as ever.
"Teachings?" Kohen was momentarily stunned, the surprised look on his face was then taken over by indignation. "This is your reason? You dumped Miranda for three years for no reason! And all of it was because you went running to that venomous snake to listen to his teachings?"
"Miss Miranda?" Raphael suddenly became cold and callous, gently crossing his arms across his chest.
"She was never mine, so how can you claim that I dumped her?"
Kohen stared in utter disbelief at his old friend, as if this was the first time he knew Raphael.
"Are you crazy? Miranda was still waiting for you to find—"
"Please ask her to get rid of all those unrealistic thoughts. It's for her own good."
Kohen widened his eyes and sighed, "If you still think you're not worthy enough for her, I can tell you right now that she doesn't care…"
Raphael coldly cut Kohen off, "That's the past. People change. I really liked her in the past, but now, I don't like her anymore, period."
The young man in white noticed the gazes from the people on the six stone seats, and he whispered, "This is not the right place to catch up on old times. Pardon me, I must leave."
But as he was turning to leave, his shoulder was tightly grabbed by Kohen.
Kohen contained his boiling anger. "You have yet finished what you need to say. Damn it! What's wrong with you! It's impossible for a person to change so quickly!"
Raphael, his expression still cold and callous, grabbed Kohen's hand. "That is because you failed to actually see my true colors, the Sword of the Twin Towers' heir, Officer Karabeyan."
Kohen held onto Raphael's shoulder with brute strength, his eyes were burning with flames of anger and bewilderment. He knew the young man in front of him was a genius with eidetic memory in the Tower of Eradication. Among the cohorts in the Tower, he was even the first to awaken his Power of Eradication. He was also the runner-up in the final appraisal before they left the tower. He only came in second to Miranda, and he even scored a place higher than Kohen himself!
He was a Swordsman of Eradication with a promising and boundless future!
With a determined look, Kohen clenched his teeth and said, "The Raphael I know would never make a choice like this! That day after you left the tower, you… we lost all news about you after that… what happened?"
Raphael sneered. "I got a good look at the real world."
The next second, a freezing, cold, chaotic Power of Eradication engulfed Kohen's hand, which was seized by Raphael. It immediately evoked the starry blue Power of Eradication within him to put up a violent resistance against it!
The surging waves of the Power of Eradication forced him to let go, but Kohen did not care about this. What he cared about was the other thing.
Kohen glanced at his old friend in complete astonishment as he asked in disbelief, "Raphael, your… your Power of Eradication… I clearly remembered it was 'Sword of Baptism's Death', but why… why did it change to this?"
Raphael raised his eyebrow and flashed a complicated smile, he replied briskly, "Compared to the original me—I have become better."
Kohen could only stare at Raphael, dumbfounded, watching his old friend from the Tower of Eradication turn his back on him without hesitation or reluctance to part.
With his back towards Kohen, Raphael turned his head sideways slightly to give him a cold look, "A word of advice, Kohen Karabeyan, be careful today." Raphael coldly walked back towards Morat Hansen's side.
The police officer furrowed his brows and clenched his fist. His eyes were filled with complex emotions and astonishment.
'That feeling… could it be…'
The shadow of the sword and the light from the sword at Red Street Market that night emerged before Kohen's eyes. That swordsman in the red and black attire, with his frenzied sword style that was murderous and indomitable.
And more importantly, his violent and uncontrollable Power of Eradication.
Kohen took in a deep breath. 'It can't be.'
After a few seconds, he exhaled and slowly walked back to his father's side. "Don't ask."
With anger and confusion boiling in him, Kohen concluded with the two words when he faced his father and the director's puzzled stares.
When the thirteen Distinguished Families' Javea Family, with the symbol of the Sun-Shooting Bow; Almond Family, with their use of deep blue waves as their emblem; and also Lascia Family, with the four-winged monitor lizard, arrived at the scene, the crowd was once again in an uproar.
But it was nothing compared to later when the Covendier Family arrived—there was more enthusiasm for their arrival.
Thales, who was in the dark compartment, spotted the person who caused the uproar from the crowd with his eagle-like vision.
The mild-mannered and amiable Suzerain of Jade City, the Guardian Duke of the South Coast, Zayen Covendier, beside an old man with a dignified posture, smiled and nodded towards the surrounding people as they strolled along the path slowly.
As he was approaching the thirteen stone seats, a number of nobles stood up and bowed to pay their respects. Zayen patiently returned their greetings one by one.
Zayen walked to the utmost centre of the stone seats, kneeled down on one knee in front of the expressionless Kessel the Fifth, and kissed the ring on his hand.
Kessel furrowed his brows slightly. "Covendier, I heard that you had a small misunderstanding with the Royal Guards yesterday."
Zayen gave a captivating smile. "It was only a small matter, you do not have to trouble yourself over this, Your Majesty."
Kessel nodded as he glanced meaningfully at Zayen's smile. "Let us hope that today will be the same."
Zayen paused slightly. Indeed, there must be something that went wrong. It should be the scene where the nobles forced the appointment of an heir, but His Majesty seemed prepared.
The Royal Guards passed down the message from one tier to the subsequent tier, and so the earth-shaking shouts of cheers could be heard from the bottom upwards.
"Iris Flowers- Tricolor Iris Flowers!"
Thales' heart sank. 'The Duke of Tricolor Iris Flowers was this popular?'
While listening to the thunderous cheers below Renaissance Palace, the young duke maintained his composure as he steadily stood up. The butler silently held his cape from behind him.
Zayen sat on one of the six stone seats and smiled at the other two dukes, who each had a different expression on their faces.
The smiling Duke Bob Cullen raised his hand, and introduced the young man to the cold looking 'Iron Eagle', "Val, this is the young Zayen—"
While scrutinizing Zayen with a cold look, the Duke of the Northern Territory nonchalantly cut off the fat duke, "Iris Flowers… You are the youngest Duke of Constellation?"
Duke Cullen, who was interrupted earlier, did not take any offence as he smiled and rubbed his belly.
Zayen was stunned. He felt that the other party's gaze was too sharp for him to meet his gaze.
'This is Val the "Iron Eagle"? He seems just as the rumors described him to be… But I wonder what his reaction would be when Eckstedt's soldiers focus on the Northern Territory…'
Zayen laughed gently and bowed slightly with his hand on his chest. "A pleasure to meet you, the Master of White Eagle, Duke Arunde. Pardon me for not daring to accept the title of the youngest duke. According to what I know, Tabark Family's master is much younger than I."
Val's expression did not change and he spoke in a manner that allowed no disagreement, "It is fine. Since you are already seated in this position, it means that you already have your right to enter this game."
At this moment, a disharmonious, piercing noise made its way through the crowd and interrupted the conversation of almost half the hall.
Thales heard an unexpected sharp voice come from another side door and pass through the crowd. "What a shame… Every time I step into this city, this alleged Royal Capital…"
The crowd dispersed, the nobles' gazes were complicated, some with hatred and some with excitement.
"I can smell that particular scent of the people from the city… That stench of luxury and privilege… makes me want to puke…"
The person with the sharp voice limped across the carpet towards the nobles, alongside his entourage.
"… just like the dying old man who sits in office and does nothing but receives his pay, and also the immature pretty-boy who actually made it to the six dukes' thrones."
His speech caused a commotion from many of the nobles.
Above the six stone seats, Zayen's expression froze whereas the plump Duke Cullen laughed. Val Arunde narrowed his eyes and clenched his fist tightly.
Thales discovered to his surprise that the person walking towards the venue was a sparse-haired, middle-aged man with a pale yet haggard complexion. Even a part of his lips had sunk inwards, making him look as if he lost the upper row of his teeth. The only sign that proved that he was a living human being was his eyes, which were incisive and full of life.
One of his legs was clearly crippled. With the help of a crutch, he paced one step at a time onto the starry blue carpet, and walked towards the six stone seats.
Val Arunde's knuckles cracked as he clenched his fist and looked disdainfully at the approaching man. "It has been years since we last met, you damned old man."
Kessel the Fifth gave a ruminating smile from his throne. "Cyril! It is good that you are here! Otherwise, the title of 'the most unpopular person' in this meeting would be taken by our Duke Arunde."
The Northern Territory Duke snorted.
The haggard middle-aged man, the Suzerain of the Ruins, the Guardian Duke of the Western Desert, Cyril Fakenhaz, emitted a creepily long, piercing laugh as he hobbled his way before the king. With one hand still holding on to his crutch, he kneeled down to kiss the king's ring. With his sharp and chilly voice, he said, "Fakenhaz would never be absent, Your Majesty."
All three of the dukes at the scene had different emotions displayed on their faces but had nonetheless kept quiet.
Thales furrowed his brows. The moment Cyril bowed down, a creepy image of a skull could be seen on his blood-red cape, and the skull had four eye sockets.
Fakenhaz, the family who used the Four-Eyed Skull as their emblem, had always been mysterious. The family was located at the Barren Bone Tribe, just opposite the Western Desert, and they were the first in line in the battle against the Orcs.
"It's already three o'clock. Four out of six dukes and eleven out of thirteen nobles have already arrived. Your Majesty, we can begin." Gilbert looked around the entire hall and nodded solemnly towards Kessel.
Kessel nodded his head slightly without a word.
He flipped the scepter he was holding in his hand into the air and then hit it hard against the ground.
For some unknown reason, the rumbling noise travelled through the whole hall from Thales's perception, as if it struck hard against the people's hearts.
The sound in the hall slowly faded.
"Everyone, it is time..."
Kessel's sonorous, dignified voice spread crystal clear throughout the hall due to the special design of the Hall of Stars.
"Constellation's National Conference of year 672 in the Calender of Eradication... will begin now."
The commotion within the Hall of Stars immediately fell into silence. Everyone was gazing at the center, where a strange silence had fallen among the King, four dukes and eleven counts.
It lasted until the guard passed the King's message to the outside of the hall.
And so, beneath Renaissance Palace, the Star Plaza once again exploded with cheers and excitement, but it was completely different from what the capital's citizens imagined.
The National Conference should have started with one noble questioning the National Conference itself and also by the thirteen Distinguished Families exposing each other's misdeeds and attacking each other.
"Sorel, what is the meaning of this?" Bern Talon—the noble of the five-pointed star, a noble in his prime years, and the distant relative of the Jadestar Royal Family—angrily questioned.
"Do you doubt His Majesty's authority in convening the National Conference?"
"I do not doubt His Majesty's authority. He is the King, of course he can do anything he wants and pleases!"
Smith Sorel—with the Golden Sun as his emblem, was the legitimate doubter of the National Conference, and the objector of the 'Tax Exemption for the Opening up of Border Counties'—refuted brusquely, "What I am questioning is if he still reserves the minimum respect that all nineteen noble families deserve!"
King Kessel gently stroked his scepter. He remained silent, as if he did not hear a single word.
Count Sorel snorted and continued, "What we received was the General Edict of Constellation! It was supposed to be about brilliant nobles who all come together to Higher Parliament to determine Constellation's future! It is not supposed to be this unconstrained mess of a conference where anyone can come and go as they wish!"
Voices of protest could be heard from the surrounding people but were immediately subdued by the voices of the nobles in the hall center, and also by the angry glances from the guards.
Count Lewis Bozdorf, who had just hinted a certain thing by saying that "if the alpha lion was still smart and brave" rubbed his stubbly chin while he said in a contemplative tone, "Makes sense. Under this situation, nothing good can be achieved regardless of what will be discussed. Not to mention that big event… The Higher Parliament would be more suitable.
"We should immediately move to the smaller meeting room."
The Northern Count with the White Bear as his symbol, the Mayor of Overwatch City coldly said, "Bozdorf, what you meant was that we should disband, and then have a small meeting of just nineteen people? We have already come this far, and you are still hooked on this matter? Did your mother forget to give you a brain when she was giving birth to you?"
In the great hall, everyone was noisily rambling about this undisguised insult! Even Duke Cullen and Zayen who were sitting upon the six stone seats furrowed their brows.
Only the Duke of the Northern Territory scoffed. Bozdorf was not enraged by the comment as he chuckled, "My mother has a great memory, so she probably did not forget that. However, Count Zemunto, you—"
His speech was interrupted by another noble from the Northern Territory.
"Shut up, Black Lion, we are not really concerned about your mother, or the presence of your brain."
Count Friess, the Suzerain of the Lonely Old Tower, who had the iron-colored long wall as his symbol, and who also came from the north, tapped rhythmically against the stone seat. With his face in a steely color, he said indifferently, "The Southern Royal Capital is meant to be used to handle that great event! What we care about is Constellation's safety. But you Southerners, you sons of b*tches, are still concerned over the accuracy of titles in the invitations you obtained?"
"The safety of Constellation?" Count Hodge Dagestan—who made a sarcastic remark earlier about him not being able to see the king clearly because he was standing too high up—also cut into the conversation. He shook his head. "Do not be arrogant, what you truly care about is your own safety. But I do not wish to criticize you, because I am not really that much more respectable than you."
With his body leaning forward, his sharp gaze swept past every single noble. "The problem is not about the title of the invitation. The problem is actually about whether His Majesty would obtain the public's popular opinion and threaten his subordinates and the suzerains through this National Conference. This is about the safety of us all, not just the northern nobles!"
The crowd once again burst into an uproar! Some people were even yelling, "Get lost, selfish nobles!"
However, in the midst of the chaos, Count Dagestan still waved at the suzerains. With his ferocious expression, he yelled at the top of his lungs, "Do not forget the Desert War! Do not forget how you were forced to enlist the people in your territories just to take revenge on behalf of the royal family!"
Only at this moment did Kessel the Fifth furrow his brows. Thales had to admit that the speech was very convincing. Thales also began to ponder about the motives for the current National Conference.
Count Talon put up both hands, his brows deeply furrowed together. "We can discuss the order in the future, but that issue is extremely urgent! We have to come up with the final decision in dealing with that matter today!"
"Decision? What decision?" Count Sorel punched the stone seat, his eyes widened. "Under the watchful eyes of the public! Under such broad daylight! Before all these people, not to mention before our enemies, we cannot even mention what the matter is about! How do we even discuss it?"
"Simple," Black Lion Bozdorf smiled as he said, "Everyone already knows about the matter, but what price are you willing to pay in order to resolve it?"
Right at this very moment, a sharp laughter could be heard from the six dukes, "Hahaha, that matter? I say, why still cover it up when you have been saying it for such a long while? What are you afraid of? Eckstedt? Are you afraid of the King? Or us dukes? Or afraid of the people both in the hall and out on the plaza below?"
Everyone's expressions changed and looked towards the haggard Cyril Fakenhaz.
The Guardian Duke of the Western Desert, whose symbol was the Four-Eyed Skull, gave out a terrifying smile.
"Let us just address it directly! Eckstedt's Diplomat Group, alongside their prince, were murdered in Constellation!"
Everyone was shocked!
Even if the nineteen noble families had known about the incident through the general edict, it was still an undisclosed secret!
How dare he... how dare he?
Duke Cullen furrowed his brows. Duke Arunde slapped against his thigh, sighed and shook his head. Zayen, on the other hand, pressed his lips together tightly as he remained silent.
"Sir Fakenhaz!" Kohen's cousin, Derek Kroma, the Count of Wing Fort who was located on the western side of the Kingdom with the Western Desert duke, tried to stop him with a ghastly expression. "We do not have to mention this in the National Conference—"
"Be quiet, boy! The adults are talking!" Fakenhaz rudely cut him off, leaving the Count of Wing Fort—who somewhat knew Fakenhaz—to hold his breath for a second.
The old Count Karabeyan, who was close to the Kroma family, could not help but furrow his brows.
With a sullen face, Cyril Fakenhaz grinded his teeth together and continued to expose the supposedly forbidden secret, "You are all well aware of this. It is only the people who do not know! Those savages will not let go of this opportunity!
"That lousy treaty has restricted them, but they've been rubbing their fists and wiping their palms as they waited for twelve years. Everyone in Constellation, regardless of the king, nobles, or commoners, listen closely!
"Constellation and Eckstedt... War is coming between Western Peninsula's Shield and Blade."