Chapter 76: Togedwer With You
Ralf was once the hope of Blood Bottle Gang, the only supra class elite among the Strongest Twelve. After going through hell and despair, he finally met Thales again after a month.
"Congratulations, you struggled through it in the end." Thales smiled and nodded. "You didn't lose to this damned world."
Ralf trembled slightly and opened his mouth abruptly. His throat, which was a mesh of blood and flesh, trembled slightly. However, he could only mutter a bunch of indecipherable grunts.
He also knew that he was unable to say anything now.
In such a situation, Thales did not know how to react for a moment. He scratched his head. "It's okay, if you have anything to say, just write it down with a pen."
Ralf's gaze dimmed.
"We have tried." Gilbert sighed. "He is illiterate. Apart from numbers, he is not even able to write his own name."
Hearing this, Ralf closed his eyes in shame. He lowered his head even more. Thales felt a little awkward.
He almost forgot that Ralf earned a living by being in a gang. Thales, who used to be a child beggar, knew that most people who joined gangs had an unfortunate life. They did not have much chance to receive a proper education because they were busy earning a living through illegal activities every day.
But in the next moment, to Thales' astonishment, Ralf gritted his teeth, supported himself with his crutch with difficulty, and then lowered his disabled body. Before the small and weak Thales…
He made a deep bow.
Thales sighed. "Alright, I have received your thanks."
Ralf raised his head and his body was trembling. He looked at Thales.
"What are your plans after this? Do you have anywhere else you can go? I don't really suggest that you return to Blood Bottle Gang…"
Ralf trembled slightly.
'Back to Blood Bottle Gang? Back under Big Sister… Catherine's wings?' Looking at his own legs, a pained expression appeared on his face. 'And then there's Nikolay…'
Thinking of his foe who had stabbed him from the back, Ralf's eyes shone with a brilliant light. A few seconds later, Ralf exhaled with his psionic ability and dejectedly shook his head.
Thales stared intently at him.
"Alright then." The prince flashed a smile. "Then you can stay at my place for the time being… We can probably afford to keep you."
Ralf's eyes brightened up.
This boy… apart from being his lifesaver, he also had a very socially influential status...
Thales turned his head and looked towards Count Caso. "Gilbert, how much time do we have until we depart for Eckstedt?"
Gilbert smiled as he spoke, "It depends on the time the messenger crow takes to reach and contact Dragon Clouds City. It will be at least three days and at most a week, Your Highness."
"That should be enough." Thales nodded and looked at Ralf. "During these few days, come to my study room during the day."
Ralf looked surprised.
The confident and optimistic boy, who let him choose between 'freedom' and 'struggle' when he was in a hopeless predicament, flashed a smile.
"I will teach you how to read and write, and how to speak with hand gestures."
The captain of the city defense team who was affiliated to Eastern City District Police Station, the thirty-one-year-old Genard laid in the dungeon of Vine Manor.
He was panting. His body was covered in wounds. He was bound in heavy shackles and could not move.
But a voice inside his heart told him that he must not… must not open his mouth.
No matter how the followers of these great nobles tortured and beat him up, no matter how they threatened and tried to bribe him…
No matter how much they wanted to know about the background of those cavaliers that appeared outside Vine Manor that night at Eastern City District…
He must keep his lips sealed.
After the National Conference ended, Genard was discharged from his duty of maintaining order in Star Plaza. The very next day, his boss came to his site of duty in Eastern City District with a group of police officers. His boss read out Genard's offences in front of him and all the soldiers under him. Somebody reported him for being engaged in corruption while he was on duty in Eastern City District.
Genard immediately sighed.
It was not because this was a false accusation. Instead, it was because in Eastern City District, the act of receiving gratuities from nobles had long since been a universally acknowledged custom and common practice.
Every single soldier from the city defense team, and even the police officers, would collect this kind of tip. The police station was also well aware of this. Every time, they would receive commissions and reap some profits. This was also the only extra income Genard could obtain for his teammates, whose wages were extremely low.
Why was he the only one who was reported? The faces of the soldiers under him were also filled with shock.
However, Genard, who had been hanging around Eastern City District for almost twelve years now, knew that he must had offended an important personage.
Under the hostile gazes of ten police officers, Genard only had enough time to give his treasured saber—which he had kept in good condition for twelve years, and which he could never bear to be apart from—to the subordinate that showed the most promise in his team. That saber was a present that was casually given to him by the Duke of Star Lake after the Major Retreat from Walla Passage as he saw that Genard did not have any weapons. ("Take this as an exchange for the flour in your hands. Thanks to you, at least we can have a good meal."–Duke John) There was even the Nine-Pointed Star emblem on it. With his hands and legs chained and head covered, he was then brought to a manor by carriage.
The carriage took many turns, but Genard had patrolled Eastern City District for over ten years. The habit he cultivated from his days as a soldier in the Starlight Brigade to observe and remember the roads was also never abandoned. How could he not recognize that this was the Covendier Family's Vine Manor, which he passed by three times each day during patrols?
A group of people—who obviously used to be soldiers—tortured Genard for two full days for no other reason than wanting to ask about the group of cavaliers who burst into Eastern City District that night, and had even possibly broken into Covendier Family's Vine Manor…
They wanted to ask about the origins of those cavaliers.
However, Genard must not tell them. He must not tell them.
There was no other reason than because the group of cavaliers… were under the Nine-Pointed Star... they were from the Jadestar Royal Family.
That was John's Nine-Pointed Star. The Duke of Star Lake's Nine-Pointed Star. Starlight Brigade's Nine-Pointed Star. That was the Nine-Pointed Star the once ignorant Genard fought under tirelessly while burning with righteous ardor.
There were so many of his battle companions under that flag!
Twelve years ago, he had once roamed about the battle-stricken land numbly. He went through cold, hunger, pain, and suffering. Every day, in a daze, he witnessed murder, arson, rape, and robbery.
That was until Genard foolishly entered the city. Just as he was so hungry that his head was dizzy and his eyes blurred, he had ignorantly walked towards the army enlistment office.
Then, he met the witty, confident, optimistic and friendly Duke of Star Lake, and his Starlight Brigade.
He was a nineteen-year-old young man from a peasant family who was often bullied, was foolish ignorant, and lacked the means to survive. In Starlight Brigade, he learned for the first time how to work together with others, he understood how it was like to sacrifice himself selflessly, he was accepted and praised, he was taught to read and write, he raised his sword and cried out in celebration of victory, he sang joyfully around a campfire, he made the decision to act as the rear-guard for his comrades.
He also understood for the first time that in the world, there existed more important things than to be well-fed and to keep living.
There, he felt more like a human instead of a barbaric beast who only cared about looking for food and satisfying his hunger.
The duke's team of personal guards and the Starlight Brigade was his home, the place he belonged to, and his everything. It was a place where he thought he would fight bravely for the rest of his life.
That was until the tragedy in Zodra, that disgraceful and detestable betrayal, that contemptible and lowly surprise attack, that cowardly stab in the back.
That was until the duke calmly laid among all the members of his team of personal guards. Amid the entire brigade's regretful and furious wails, the duke earnestly advised them to 'take care of themselves'. He then smiled with tears in his eyes, closed his eyes, and left forever.
This was… the team of personal guards' fault. This was their sin.
'If we had realized sooner at that time… If I reacted a bit sooner… Then, the duke wouldn't have… Our home wouldn't have…'
Therefore, when the soldiers from the noble family scornfully insulted him, interrogated him, beat him, and threatened him to have him reveal the identity of those cavaliers who were also under the Nine-Pointed Star…
Genard felt that his refusal to yield, his perseverance, silence, and even the injuries that covered his entire body, to the point where he was barely alive, were all a type of atonement.
At least, this would slightly soothe his soul that had been feeling guilt, regret and self-blame for the past twelve years. It enabled him to, more or less, atone and repent after these twelve years, where he lost all interest in life and felt extremely numb.
It was all for the place he once called 'home'. For his responsibility as a member of the team of personal guards to the duke who may be gone but will always be remembered by Genard.
"My master just wants to confirm some things." The white-haired old man was calmly enquiring from outside the jail cell door again.
"He just wants to know about the identity of those cavaliers. That is all. I swear in my master's honor that he is not planning to harm those cavaliers."
Genard gritted his teeth and kept quiet.
"Who would see your persistence? Similarly, no one would see your weakness either. You just have to give us some information. Just a little. No one will know."
Genard continued to keep his lips shut tight.
"We know that you definitely know something. All your soldiers said that they had no flag nor emblem. So, are they people you know? Were they once your comrades, or friends who you would sacrifice your life for?"
Gerald still kept his mouth shut. The white-haired old man sighed and left the dungeon.
Genard relaxed his jaws. Panting, he crumpled down onto the floor. He made it through again.
However, unknown to him, Ashford, the old butler of the Covendier Family headed to the top floor of Vine Manor. He respectfully bowed to his young master, the Guardian Duke of the South Coast, Zayen Covendier. He then said, "I have gotten an answer. Those cavaliers belong to the Jadestar Family."
Zayen turned from the window which was filled with the smell of blood. His expression was a contemplative one.
"I thought that he kept refusing to say anything no matter what?"
Ashford said expressionlessly, "For some things, we can obtain answers even if the other party does not say anything. Genard used to be in the Starlight Brigade and was even a member of the personal guards belonging to John Jadestar, the Duke of Star Lake and also the Starlight God of War. After Sonia Sasere dismissed the original Starlight Brigade, as one of the people who refused to travel north to the Broken Dragon Fortress, he retired and became a police officer."
Zayen's gaze flickered around, as if deep in thought.
Ashford nodded slightly. "It is obvious that he is an outstanding and strong soldier. If there is something about those cavaliers that made him keep quiet no matter what, it is most probably related to the things he experienced when he was serving in the military.
"I believe that with his rich experience as part of the brigade and in expeditions, he saw through the background of those cavaliers with no flag or banner. Due to the camaraderie he formed with those who were also from the Jadestar Family when he was in Starlight Brigade, he insisted on keeping their identities a secret."
Zayen stared at his old butler for a few seconds.
In the end, he sighed.
"So, the only ones that fit the description is the Jadestar Private Army from Mindis Hall, and after yesterday, the new prince directly returned to Mindis Hall before the public eye. So, he's the royal treasure missing from Mindis Hall?"
Zayen shook his head and chuckled softly. "Hmph, I'm afraid that the so-called royal treasure that went missing from Mindis Hall before this was that new prince! Nikolay captured that brat and brought him to Vine Manor… That was why they simply broke in and snatched him back in secret.
"Ashford, did you know that we held the kingdom's fate in our hands twice? Twice!" Zayen raised his head and shut his eyes tight. "In the end, every time, we let him escape."
Ashford calmly lowered his head and did not speak.
After a long while.
"Treat the injuries of that soldier from Starlight Brigade," Zayen said coldly.
Ashford raised his gaze. It carried hints of puzzlement.
"You know… No matter what, I owe that brat one…" Zayen clenched his fists tightly as he spoke, his eyes blazing with fury. "And I do not want to hesitate when I take action against him."
Without hesitation, Zayen turned and left the manor which smelled heavily of blood.
"Did you know, sir?"
Behind him, Ashford flashed a mysterious smile. "You are more and more like the previous duke."
Without turning his head, Zayen scornfully replied, "And be as foolish as him, with relatives plotting against me behind my back to have my throat cut in my own bedroom without realizing it?"
Ashford shook his head slightly and sighed deeply. He lowered his head and reported another matter, "Sir, there was news from Jade City… Lady Hille…"
Ashford glanced at his master's expression. He looked as if he wanted to continue, but hesitated.
Zayen stopped walking. The young duke sucked in a breath, as if he was preparing for something.
His tone was ice-cold. "Go ahead and speak. What ridiculous thing has my adorable but foolish twelve-year-old sister done again?"
Hearing this, Ashford bowed deeply and carefully said, "Miss Hille has already departed for Sera Dukedom five days ago, protected by Lord Cassain. None of the followers dared to stop her."
Zayen turned his head and looked at Ashford.
He put on a bewildered expression, furrowed his brows and said, "Sera? The Sera Dukedom that became scattered and disunited after the archduke was assassinated? Is that place not troubled by a plague recently?"
Ashford bowed slightly. "The reason she gave to the public was that she wanted to aid the people, who are deeply troubled by the plague. However, your humble servant suspects that she found information about that organization."
Zayen's expression immediately became frost-cold. His face twitched, as if he was thinking of something that he could not tolerate...
Until he suddenly emitted an outburst, "Is it not enough that she has caused her own parents' deaths?"
The duke's voice was filled with fury and hatred. "What sort of disaster does she still want to bring back to the Covendiers?"
Ashford did not speak. After more than ten seconds, Zayen sighed heavily.
In the end, he still swung his arm to show that he wanted to make an order. "Dispatch more men and ensure her safety." Zayen shut his eyes tight and gritted his teeth. He angrily said, "And… ensure that her identity is kept a secret. It absolutely, absolutely, absolutely cannot be revealed…"
His voice trembled, and he repeated 'absolutely' three times.
Ashford nodded slightly and considerately left the hall of the manor before the duke.
After the butler was a distance away, Zayen trembled as he held on to a pillar.
He punched the pillar hard!
After that, the Duke of Tricolor Iris Flowers leaned his head against the pillar. He exhaled in anguish.
'The oversight and failure before this… there cannot be a second time… I must not fail. Must not fail!
'I must become king. I must.
'Only by becoming the supreme king… Only by taking control of all the power in Constellation… Or else… Hille…
'Who else in the world can protect you? Who else can protect… such a person like you?'
Mindis Hall, the cellar.
"Congwatuwations, my alwy, Prince Thales, the second pwince."
Serena, the silver-haired, red-eyed loli of over four-hundred years old and a refugee from the Night Kingdom, looked at Thales with a complicated expression.
"We could cwearly hear the cheers in Star Pwaza from here."
Thales narrowed his eyes as he spoke in resignation, "This is a bit too much… the distance from here to Star Plaza… All in all, our alliance has moved a step closer to its aim."
Without blushing at all—Thales had his suspicions on whether she even had the ability of blushing—Serena cut him off and continued speaking, "Now, we will wait for the time you are cwowned as king. Then, you can help me regain my thwone. Do not worwy, I will do ewewything in my power to help you."
Under the Everlasting Lamp, Thales' face became steely. 'Do everything in your power to help me?
'She's talking as though I am not the only heir to the kingdom, and without her help, I won't be able to inherit the kingdom.
'On the contrary, her competitor and opponent, the 'Weeper' or something from the Night Kingdom, the Night Queen…'
Thales could only feel a headache coming.
He spat mentally, 'This calculative, scheming old witch who does everything she can to profit off others...
'Me being crowned, and you regaining your throne? Old witch, can we change the order?'
But in the end, he did not voice his complaints.
Thales let out a fake cough. "Then, you must have heard that I am heading to Eckstedt soon."
Serena nodded and flashed a mysterious smile.
'This mortal brat. Did you think that I don't know what you are planning?'
"Before I leave, I will entrust you all to… erm, my father…" Thales carefully chose his words.
"I will go with you."
Thales continued nodding, thinking of what to say next. "... You are after all, an important member of another kingdom's government, he definitely will not be a poor host…"
"I only fowow you."
Thales' voice gradually became softer.
"What?" he furrowed his brows as he spoke in bewilderment.
"I am saying that I want to be togedwer with you." Serena cracked a smile. This red-eyed girl who looked like she was six or seven ("Eh, didn't she looked like she was only five or six the last time I saw her? Is it possible that she grew slightly?"–Thales) opened her mouth and said with a lisp, "We still have anodwer cwause which states that you have pwovide bwood to me once evewy month, do we not?"
Thales lamented in his heart.
"Also, allies definitewy should not be too far apwart fwom each other… I still need to guawantee your safety."
The Prince of Constellation rolled his eyes again.
'Together with me… it is to guarantee your OWN safety, isn't it?!'
The thing he was worried about the most had happened, but at that moment, Gilbert's voice rang from outside the door, "Good day to all three of you… Sir Corleone, Sir Corleone, and Lady Corleone… You are all truly responsible. Chora, relax a little."
Soon after, there was knocking on the door outside the cellar.
Count Caso's voice rang from the other side of the door. "I apologize for interrupting your discussion, Prince Thales and Archduchess Corleone. However… Eckstedt's reply has arrived… faster than we expected."