Episode 120. The Knight of the Azure Sky (1)

‘Avoid combat as much as possible, and prioritize maintaining our position.’

The ban on combat engagements decreed by the royal family was virtually meaningless. Even before this most recent command, the Noctein forces had already lost their fighting spirit, and there was a lull in the fighting on the front lines.

The Noctein troops showed no inclination to leave their makeshift garrison at the newly established border between what was previously the eastern and central Noctein territories. They had no desire to reclaim their territory before the onset of negotiations.

It was not unusual.

Their physical strength was sapped by the lack of supplies, and their will was shattered by repeated defeats and retreats. The Noctein soldiers’ morale had fallen to its lowest possible point, and they were truly and unequivocally defeated.

This defeatist attitude pervaded throughout the front lines, and the commanders had no means of energizing their subordinates. The lack of fighting spirit was evident even in their superior officers.

This had all started with a single foreigner from Adenburg.

When the Knights of the Blue Wolves and a mage unit had arrived as reinforcements, the Noctein soldiers on the front lines believed they would reclaim all of their lost territories and drive out the Adenburg opportunists.

They were mistaken.

The mages were strategically attacked and eliminated before they could exhibit their prowess in battle, and the surviving Blue Wolves were endlessly harassed until they left the front lines.

Their replacements, the Red Wolves and a second mage unit, had sworn to exact revenge.

However, the devious foreigner refused to give them the opportunity. He completely ignored the new superhuman beings on the battlefield and instead hunted down the ordinary soldiers.

In the meantime, the losses of Noctein troops and their commanders mounted, and morale plummeted. After all, how could they be motivated when the Adenburg knights and mages wreaked havoc on the front lines, while their own were completely ineffective?

It was then that the Red Wolves and the mages devised their plan. They had succeeded in drawing out the obnoxious foreigner by disguising themselves as common infantrymen.

Nonetheless, the results proved disastrous. Talisman, the mage leading the operation, and five other senior mages were completely vaporized in the fight, disappearing without even leaving their bodies behind. The senior Knights of the Red Wolves had also been slain. The only survivors were Commander Halo and a few lucky infantrymen.

“Drachen is a devil capable of controlling storms. The knights and mages were swallowed up in the tempest.”

Propagated by the surviving infantry, news of their defeat that day spread throughout the front lines.

“Punish those spreading false rumors in order to maintain morale.”

The Noctein command belatedly beheaded the infantry responsible for the rumors, but it was too late.

On that day, the Noctein soldiers, often nicknamed wild dogs for their violent and aggressive demeanor in battle, became frightened rabbits.

***

Shriek!

A shrill shriek spread throughout the wilderness, and the Noctein soldiers curled up behind their wooden barricades as they trembled in terror.

“Don’t come down. Please don’t come down.”

They prayed that the red devil roaming the skies would ignore them and pass by. Fortunately for them, their prayers were answered.

The devil in the sky turned his head and disappeared from the front lines.

“Ah…”

The foreigner had only briefly shown himself before disappearing, but the soldiers huddling behind the barricades were drenched in sweat, as though they had just fought in a fierce battle. Among them, there were even those who lost the strength in their legs and collapsed.

Similar scenes unfolded throughout the front lines.

Drachen and his wyvern roamed across the front lines as though parading their strength, and it was sufficient for the Noctein soldiers to be frightened out of their wits and lose any remaining traces of their fighting spirit.

Considering this was the current state of the battlefront, the Noctein royal family’s decree that their forces would avoid engagement proved meaningless.

“It’s quiet again today.”

Seon-Hyeok spoke with a pleased expression as he observed the front lines. If any Noctein soldiers heard him, they would have protested against his arrogance.

However, he was not wrong. The front lines truly were quiet and bereft of significant battles.

It was not just the Noctein Kingdom avoiding active combat. The Adenburg Kingdom, after winning consecutive battles, refused to spread themselves too thin within enemy borders.

Since the Griffindor Kingdom had quickly withdrawn from their own war and hastily signed a ceasefire with the Nocteins, the Adenburg forces could not be as reckless as before.

If the embattled Nocteins decided to concentrate all of their power to the east, there was a high probability that a terrible war of attrition would ensue. It was not a situation the Adenburg Kingdom desired.

Seon-Hyeok was not entirely certain, but he figured the war would come to a natural conclusion at this rate. It was uncertain whether the Adenburg Kingdom would absorb all of the occupied territory or return sections for financial compensation, but it was evident that the war was nearing its end.

I want to rest.

When he envisioned the end of the war, all the pent-up fatigue from his recent endeavors flooded him at once.

“Ah… how did I end up like this?”

When he came to his senses, he had far too much blood on his hands.

He had fought in several wars and dozens of battles, but had he ever been responsible for taking so many lives as he did in this current war? Of course, it was mostly at the hands of Aria Eisen, and he had been so far up in the air that he could not personally witness most of their deaths, but it was undeniable that he was an accomplice in these mass killings.

Revenge or not, all he wanted to do was return home.

‘Hero of the West.’

‘Adenburg’s Spear.’

‘Drachen, the Specter of War.’

‘The Tempest Knight.’

The more people he killed, the more the Adenburg troops blindly praised and trusted him. Their support forced him to fight through his fatigue and continue patrolling the front lines.

But he had reached his limit.

At the three-week point since the previous engagement, Seon-Hyeok was unable to endure it any longer and requested a meeting with Commander Mangsk.

“To think that Adenburg’s hero would come seek out an old man like me. What’s the matter?”

“I’d like to return to Rheinperle.”

Commander Mangsk had welcomed Seon-Hyeok with a smile, but his expression immediately froze.

“His Majesty did tell me to fulfill all of your requests, but I wasn’t expecting this.”

The commander continued, his facial expression still stiff.

“Do you have any plans to reconsider? Your absence will be felt dearly here.”

“The front lines are stable, so do you think that much will change just because I’m gone? Even if there’s a weakness due to my absence, we have many talented knights and mages here – they’ll be more than enough to fill in any gaps.”

Because he had stretched himself thin handling the enemy knights and mages, their Adenburg counterparts were able to escape relatively unscathed. Given they had completely preserved their strength, they should be capable of overcoming any situation that could develop on the front lines.

“No, that’s not true. The Nocteins aren’t cowering behind their walls out of fear of our knights and mages. All they fear is the name of Drachen, the Red Devil.”

“That’s not a nickname I enjoy hearing.”

Others may have given him that name to praise his accomplishments, but it made Seon-Hyeok uncomfortable. The nickname, Red Devil, emphasized the blood on his hands.

“And if it’s true that the current situation on the front lines will deteriorate just because I’m gone, don’t you think it’s meaningless to forcibly hold onto this territory?”

In the past, Seon-Hyeok would not have dared to say something so insolent, but given his present position and wartime achievements, his words carried newfound weight.

The battleground was not a playground for superhuman beings. This was a mantra often repeated by the commander himself.

“I see. You’re correct. If our current position is untenable just because a single knight is missing, we should instead retreat and secure what we can. I was being foolish.”

It was only after the commander heard Seon-Hyeok’s arguments that he backed away from his position.

“And beyond that, I’ve personally hit a wall. My body and mind are both exhausted.”

Commander Mangsk nodded, fully sympathizing with the foreigner’s feelings.

“That’s understandable. Nobody has been overworked like you have been since the start of the war. It was due to my own incompetence that such pressure was put on you. I have no excuses.”

In a short period of time, Seon-Hyeok had taken part in dozens of times the battles that others did. Not only that, the battles he fought in had not even been normal in nature.

At the start of the war, he had annihilated the mages on the front lines and perfectly restrained the Knights of the Blue Wolves. Once they were neutralized, he roamed the battlefront and destroyed countless enemy units. Later, he was forced to endure a focused assault from the Red Wolves and a second mage unit by himself.

Despite having attained unmatched mobility, he was repeatedly faced with death. Seon-Hyeok had truly been overworked during this war.

“I just want to go back and rest now.”

Seon-Hyeok was exhausted, and even Commander Mangsk could tell that the foreigner did not look good. The old man could not cling onto him any longer.

“So when will you leave?”

“I’m planning to destroy some of the main Noctein facilities before I leave, just in case.”

On the day he overcame the trap laid by the Red Wolves and the mages, he had managed to reach level 19. Sensing that his next level-up was not far off, he intended to make full use of this opportunity to gain experience.

King Theodore contacted Seon-Hyeok before his final mission.

[The knights are full of praise. They say that their losses have been mitigated by your efforts.]

“I put my faith in you and did my best, Your Majesty.”

Seon-Hyeok did not just say so to flatter the king. Rather, he was confirming once again that he would be rewarded for his participation and achievements in the war. Commander Mangsk’s expression turned to shock as he realized the foreigner’s unspoken intent, but King Theodore laughed rather than be offended.

[Of course. I will also do my best to live up to your expectations.]

The king continued to praise him for his service to the kingdom.

[So. I heard you wanted to leave the front lines?]

“My territory has been attacked, and I am afraid I will no longer be able to demonstrate my full power as a result of accumulated injuries and fatigue from past battles. Please understand my position.”

[Do not misunderstand. I promised you independent control over operations, and that includes your departure from the war. If you deem this the proper time to step away, there is nothing else to be said.]

It was a response befitting the head of the House of Adenstein, the king who valued his word as much as gold.

[But there is one question I would like to ask you before you leave.]

Having received permission to leave, Seon-Hyeok was relaxed as he awaited King Theodore’s next words.

[What would you do if the Nocteins sent people like you to the front lines?]

“What do you mean…”

When Seon-Hyeok answered in confusion at the unexpected question, the king paused for a minute before continuing.

[I have received news that the griffin riders have left the Griffindor capital.]

“Your Majesty, I still cannot understand what you are trying to say.”

[I am saying that two of the Seven Knights of the Azure Sky are headed to the western front.]

What the hell is he saying?

As Seon-Hyeok tried to find the words to answer, the king asked him once again.

[Do you plan to leave the front lines even as the griffin riders approach?]

The image of the Noctein soldiers looking at him with despair flashed through his head.

“Your Majesty…”

When Seon-Hyeok could not respond immediately, the king spoke in a firm voice.

[The Knights of the Azure Sky have made a declaration. They would like to see who the real ruler of the heavens is. However, I do not feel that way.]

The king’s words simultaneously sounded like an expression of endless trust and a childish provocation.

[So. What do you think?]

However, Seon-Hyeok found it difficult to respond.

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