Chapter 575: The Years Have Caught On To Me
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
“‘The Brightest Star’ Theodora.
“Daughter of Oath Keeper, noble royal princess,” Norb paused and gave Thales a knowing look, “And the Duchess of Star Lake.”
‘Oath Keeper’s daughter?’
Thales’ breathing staggered a little as he stared at this knight with striking eyes, thin lips and a faint smile.
“Unmarried throughout her lifetime, she does not have an exceptional reputation in history, but she is the longest-serving Chief of Intelligence that the department has seen—her elven bloodline ensured her good health and a long life—too long, to the extent that she had to withdraw to serve behind the scenes and appoint another chief to avoid controversy.”
With curiosity, Thales stared at this heroic princess and Duchess of Star Lake.
[Theodora E. M. Jadestar, 354—?]
Her demeanor was reminiscent of Fortress Flower, but the latter did not possess the domineering aura that Theodora did, which was dazzling and revered.
“But her date of death isn’t stated here,” Thales said, wondering.
“Because we ourselves at the Secret Intelligence Department don’t even know.
“It is said that, when Princess Theodora truly left the Secret Intelligence Department to a distant place at a-hundred-and-one, the reigning ‘King who Survived’ Alan the Third was three generations younger than her.”
‘By comparison, her brothers died so much younger,’ Norb thought.
Thales’ gaze shifted downwards to immediately spot the princess’ gold-thread-embroidered quote:
[Look, look, look. What the f*ck are you looking at, dickhead.]
Thales ossified on the spot.
‘What the hell?’
Thales’ face twitched as he stared in disbelief at this neatly and beautifully embroidered “princess’ quote” that was full of swear words.
‘The princess of Constellation?’
“Couldn’t you have picked another quote? Something more normal?”
Norb looked embarrassed and said hesitatingly, “This, because it was based on her own wishes, so we couldn’t, couldn’t do anything about it.”
‘What if she comes back here someday?’—he kept this part of the sentence to himself.
Thales squinted and understood.
He accepted the explanation and no longer looked at Theodora’s portrait.
“As you can see, although she was a woman, Theodora was tough and domineering during her reign. She was the finest agent of the department.”
Norb incidentally explained, “From her reign onwards, the Secret Intelligence Department set their sights globally and positioned spies around the world. They were zealous and aggressive, reporting everything they observed.
“If necessary, she would not hesitate to sign off on a censured overseas assassination mission, even if it would incite a war.”
Thales was astounded.
He thought about what King Nuven said to him that night, about the fate of his eldest son.
“But legend was that, in that era, Secret Room would never attempt going south past Northern Pine Forest, Kuntana wouldn’t dare cross the Ocean of Eradication, and even if everyone was desperate to, no one dared touch a Secret Intelligence Department agent.”
Norb stared at this distinguished princess of Constellation, and did not conceal his admiration and respect.
‘Damned Secret Intelligence Department.
‘How much is written here that has been omitted from history books?’
Norb leaned on his cane with much interest, seemingly still getting used to this new third leg.
He pointed out another painting to Thales. It was a portrait of a tall, handsome and heroic looking young man with a sunny disposition.
[Noah C. P. Almond, 434—462]
“‘Lone Sail’, Noah Almond.
“Rumor has it, he’s one of the lovers of Queen Erica.”
‘He was the queen’s man?’
Norb lowered his head and blinked, and his tone wasn’t as solemn as before. “Of course, some have said that the Conqueror of the North liked to hunt for beauty. There wasn’t a single soul in her court that she hadn’t slept with—regardless of gender.”
Hearing this gossip, Thales looked at the young man Noah in a new light.
From afar, the Noah in the portrait looked fit and handsome, and was indeed a remarkable specimen.
Norb shook his head and continued, “But unfortunately, when Queen Erica lost power, Lone Sail was sentenced to the guillotine by his deputy cum successor.
“Deputy? By his own deputy?”
Thales frowned and recalled ‘My Home’ Tavern at Blade Fangs Camp and the thought-provoking slogan on its signboard.
Norb nodded and sighed. “It is true that not every pair of partners was as happy and compatible as Leinster and Halva.”
He turned to the next portrait.
“And this was Lone Sail’s deputy.”
There was a subtle hint of reverence in Norb’s voice. “Sancho the Pale Baron.”
Thales looked up and saw a man with a pallid face and deep-set eyes in the portrait.
Sancho had a decent appearance and elegant posture. His fingers that were playing the guqin were slender. He looked like a well-learned scholar.
And not a Chief of Intelligence in the Underworld.
[Sancho D. D. Doyle, 438—489]
Thales was stunned when he saw the family name.
“Doyle? He was a Doyle?”
“Yes, why?” Norb replied, perplexed.
‘Pale Baron, Doyle.’
“Nothing.” Thales shook his head and thought about ‘Wise Prime Minister’ Karabeyan. “It’s just that, when you put these names together…”
Thales drove the images of his lackadaisical personal guard and his outlandish father out of his mind, then lamented, “It makes one wonder, ‘Oh history, what have you done to these people’.
Norb was a little befuddled, but continued nonetheless. “Sancho was the most ruthless and autocratic official during the reign of ‘Red King’ John the Second. He was involved in horrible instances of violence and bloodshed.
“Before him, the Secret Intelligence Department was merely an intelligence agency. In his hands, it became a terrifying monster that integrated supervision, control, trial, law enforcement, violence, propaganda, censorship, and peacekeeping into one organization.”
Norb’s cadence rose and fell, like he was telling a ghost story.
“As the most powerful Chief of Intelligence in history, he spread the anger and tyranny of the Red King freely. He acted at will and his power was unchallenged, ending the legacy of countless prestigious families.”
Thales frowned as he reappraised this different Doyle: he looked noble and elegant, and nothing like an executioner with buckets of blood on his hands.
Norb’s tone became tense, as if he was experiencing that bloodshed. “Until the Pale Baron himself died in the hands of his deputy cum successor—’Black Messenger’ Mason Jonveled.”
Thales raised his eyebrows.
‘Another one killed by his deputy.’
Following Norb’s gaze, he saw the third person:
[Mason H. A. Jonveled, 443—506]
He stood alone in the dark. He had gloomy eyes and an average appearance but looked mean and unscrupulous, like a cannibalistic beast in a corner.
Based on their portraits, Lone Sail Almond was the honorable and heroic youth, Doyle the Pale Baron was a narcissistic but gentle scholar, and Black Messenger Jonveled was…
Unquestionably, he exuded the eerie and terrifying aura of a villain.
Norb went on, “Black Messenger betrayed his master for glory. But after he killed Sancho, his attempt to defect failed. Fortunately for him, by the first writ of execution that was issued by ‘Virtuous King’ Mindis the Third when he succeeded the throne, he was able to spend the remainder of his life in the Prison of Bones.”
Thales exhaled. “Given what you’ve told me, from the Conqueror of the North to the Red King, three consecutive Chiefs of Intelligence fell victim to internal evils and died terrible deaths.”
‘So backstabbing is popular in the kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Department too, huh?’
Seemingly sensing the duke’s melancholy, Norb said slowly, “The kingdom was very chaotic during those times.”
“A little gossip.” Perhaps it was to lighten the mood, Norb lowered his voice and smiled subtly. “The rumor is that all these three Chiefs of Intelligence have slept with Queen Erica. Or, I should say, the queen has bedded all three of them.”
‘Bedded by the queen.’
Thales raised his eyebrows. He glanced at the portrait of Lone Sail, Pale Baron and Black Messenger, and suddenly discovered that even though they were respectively heroic, gentle and gloomy, they were all men in their prime with their own unique characteristics.
‘Taking advantage of her position… This queen really knows how to enjoy life.’
“Chaotic indeed.” Thales blinked. “In every sense.”
In that moment.
They turned around in unison to find Raphael standing behind them with a disapproving look on his face.
He stared at Norb grimly, then at the prince sternly.
“I told you not to go anywhere,” the Barren Bone man said coldly, “Especially with strangers.”
Thales glanced at Norb. The latter lowered his head apologetically.
The Duke of Star Lake put on a smile.
“I’m sorry. I thought…” Thales cast a glance behind Raphael at the room behind him. “Wiping ass would take longer.”
Raphael and Thales’ gazes met in mid-air and exchanged blows.
Norb read the situation and walked over to greet the Barren Bone man. “Raphael.”
Raphael seemed to have just noticed the man with a cane, and responded coldly, “Norb.”
Thales sensed that the two had a stiff relationship.
Norb smiled. “So, I hear there’s a big case involving a Western Desert noble?”
Raphael nodded, and replied in a detached tone, “Yes.”
Norb nodded knowingly. He stared into Raphael’s red eyes and said, “Well, although it’s not my case, if you need help …”
Raphael interjected squarely, “If I need help.”
Seeing that Raphael was reluctant to talk, Norb no longer spoke to him, but turned to Thales instead.
“I haven’t had time to thank you, Your Highness,” Norb said respectfully, “If you allow me the honor, I would like to visit you someday…”
“His Highness has other matters to attend to,” Raphael stepped in front of Thales and said in a warning tone, “And he’s here on a private visit.”
Norb stopped talking.
“Of course.” He looked at the adamant Raphael and nodded disappointedly. “Of course.”
Norb bowed to Thales again then, leaning clumsily against his cane, limped off.
Looking forlorn and pitiful.
Thales could not help but sympathize.
“What did Norb do?” Thales asked after Norb left.
Raphael frowned. “What?”
Thales trailed behind the Barren Bone man.
“What did he do during the Bloody Year to have himself sent to the Western Desert, living as if in exile?”
Raphael looked tense. “You’ll have to ask yourself, or His Grace.”
“Seriously?” Thales observed Raphael’s expression and snorted.
“If you’re interested in a day tour of the Secret Intelligence Department, Your Highness,” Raphael said, irritated, “I am more than capable of fulfilling your request.”
“Why? Are you jealous to see me so popular?” Thales delighted in Raphael’s annoyed look.
Raphael scoffed and continued walking.
“Fine. So who is this then, tour guide Raphael?”
Thales pointed randomly at a portrait.
Raphael took a glance. “Lisandro Esposito, no nickname.”
‘Or rather, because he has too may nicknames, it’s easier to not mention any.’
Thales moved closer to the portrait. It was of a kind and modest-looking middle-aged man with an amiable smile.
[Lisandro Esposito, 530—602]
[When you realize you’re wrong, you’re on the right track.]
“He was born in the year that the Virtuous King passed away. As the son of a humble tanner, he changed his fate through education and examinations, and was eventually appointed as Chief of Intelligence to ‘The Silent’ Sumer the Fourth, taking part in the Imperial Conference.”
Raphael strode forward steadily and did not seem to care that Thales was left behind. “Since he took over, the Secret Intelligence Department did away with old traditions. It was no longer the private toy of the king, but a national intelligence agency with clear powers and responsibilities, efficient operations, adequate budgets, and important status. Little by little, step by step, we recovered from the disadvantaged position we were in from facing Secret Room for a century.
“To become the Secret Intelligence Department of today,” Raphael said respectfully.
Thales had to speed up to keep up with Raphael’s inconsiderate footsteps.
“He was also the teacher of Morat Hansen.”
Raphael exited the corridor and arrived in front of a unique looking iron door. Making similar finger drawing motions in the rippling air, he unsealed the magical lock and walked into a dark chamber.
“You mean The Black Prophet?”
Thales caught up quickly and entered the chamber.
But just as he stepped inside, Thales felt a sense of dread!
Sin of Hell’s River became restless, but it felt different from when he had faced other dangers previously. It was abstract but spine-chilling.
“Ssssslr…” A faint hissing noise could be heard, reminiscent of a slithering snake.
Fortunately, this feeling was fleeting, as if it never existed.
If it was any shorter, Thales would have thought that it was an illusion.
‘What’s going on?’
Thales adapted to the dimness of the chamber and followed behind Raphael in trepidation.
“You know, we don’t normally mention this nickname, Your Highness.”
The Barren Bone man’s tone was wary. “Especially in the Secret Intelligence Department.”
“Why?” In the dim light, they walked for about a dozen meters. Thales, still absorbed in the earlier scare, subconsciously asked, “Why not?”
In the next second, a hoarse voice that he had not heard for six years responded, “It’s like how we wouldn’t normally call you ‘Henpecked Star’.
At the sound of this voice, Thales stopped in his tracks. He did not even have time to comprehend the mockery in those words.
That sense of dread struck again, more intense than before.
Sin of Hell’s River was restless.
Raphael stopped a few steps in front of him and turned around.
Revealing the person behind him.
Thales’ eyes widened.
He had anticipated this scene, but…
“Lord Hansen.” Thales stared at the frail dark figure before him. “Long time no see.”
In front of him, the current Chief of Intelligence of King Kessel, the head of the Secret Intelligence Department who had been out of the public eye for years, The Black Prophet, Lord Morat Hansen, was sitting in a black wheelchair, facing him.
The old man gasped in distress as he lifted his wrinkled, emaciated and abhorrent face. He gave Thales an unnerving smile.
Thales looked at Morat unfazed.
He remembered that six years ago, although The Black Prophet was old, he was still spirited and aggressive, and was able to threaten Gilbert and Jines while supported by a cane.
Thales stared blankly at the wheelchair.
‘Why does he look like he has one foot in the grave?’
But Thales quickly sensed that something was amiss.
Sin of Hell’s River provided the feedback of an incessant hair-raising hissing—which originated from the dark and colorless “wheelchair”.
Sin of Hell’s River reached his eyes, allowing him to see clearly in the dark chamber.
Thales looked down instinctively: The Black Prophet’s wheelchair was “wrapped” in countless sticky and moist black veins, like muscular veins, which wrapped around Morat’s legs too.
The veins wriggled from time to time, contracting, breathing.
It wasn’t a wheelchair.
In that moment, Thales’s hair truly stood on end.
It was a…living creature.
Like twigs, like vines, like tentacles.
Its rear part extended to the wall of the chamber, and covered half of the room like vines, up to the ceiling.
And Morat, sitting on the “wheelchair”, seemed to grow out of these vines.
Thales continued breathing distractedly as he thought about the Blood Mystic.
“Don’t be afraid,” Morat breathed with much difficulty. He raised a frail arm, which was connected to thousands of wriggling and entangled black-veined vines. “It’s just necessary means. Like taking medicine to cure a disease.”
Raphael stood to a side, his expression unchanged.
‘Taking medicine to cure a disease?’
It took Thales a few seconds to calm down.
“Your Grace, what, what happened to you?”
Morat chuckled, causing the black-veined vines around him to constrict.
“Duke of Star Lake,” The Black Prophet said softly, which made it no less chilling, “The years have caught on to me.
“Like how they caught on to Master Lisandro, and His Majesty King Aydi.
“Like how they will eventually catch on to everyone.”
The Black Prophet’s eyes glazed over to reveal yearning. “Of course, excluding elves.”
Thales was breathing in a trance. In that moment, he did not know how to face the monster-like Lord Hansen.
“I believe you have seen for yourself, Your Highness, how the kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Department, through the leadership of fifty-seven Chiefs.” Morat snapped out of it. “Is vitally connected to the glory and fate of Constellation.
“We are not your enemy, Thales,” Morat looked emotionally at the revolting creature that was wrapped around half of his body and referred to the duke by name, “In fact, we are struggling as much as you are.”
Thales felt his forehead twitch as he stared at those black vines.
The Black Prophet raised an arm and, with a mysterious movement, the black-veined vines that covered half his body trembled and started to detach from the back of his “wheelchair”, “releasing” him.
“Ssss…” The vines retracted with a chilling sound.
Leaving the vines that were still wrapped around the wheelchair squirming like maggots and pupae.
This scene made Thales sick in the stomach.
Morat closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths before re-opening his eyes weakly and nodding to Raphael.
The Barren Bone man lowered his head respectfully, turned around to open another door, and disappeared through it into the darkness.
Watching Raphael leave, Thales suddenly realized that he and The Black Prophet were the only ones left in the room, together with…those black “things”.
This thought made him uneasy.
“Mind pushing me, Your Highness?”
Morat reached a feeble hand out to Thales, opened his deformed mouth and chuckled like a dead man in a coffin, “Don’t worry, I won’t read your mind this time.”