Episode 124. Aerial Combat (1)

“Why has it been so long?”

Seon-Hyeok had much to say to the dragon after an extended period of time without any contact.

He blurted out question after question.

Why isn’t the fairy dragon waking up? How much more do I have to grow before I meet you?

[All things will come with time, and your questions will be answered then.]

As always, the dragon’s responses were vague.

“You’re the same as always.”

It was frustrating, but Seon-Hyeok was reassured by the unwavering voice.

“On the other hand, I’ve changed quite a bit.”

So many things had happened, and so many people had died.

Among them, countless had died at his own hands. These deaths had changed him, and he could no longer return to the days of his blissful ignorance.

Perhaps this was why he was so happy to hear the dragon’s unchanging voice.

[You have become stronger and more complex than before. Your changes are admirable.]

“Wow. That’s a surprise. To think that you’d actually compliment me.”

This was his first time receiving praise from the aloof dragon.

“Then can we meet now?”

Seon-Hyeok asked expectantly, but it seemed it was not yet time. The dragon once again delayed their meeting, saying that Seon-Hyeok was still unworthy.

“Wow. You really are playing hard to get.”

Seon-Hyeok sighed.

[You will continue to move forward as you have done until now. When the promised date arrives, you will be rewarded with great glory.]

The dragon pretended not to hear what he said.

[Until that date, you must bring under your control all of the dragon subspecies and prove your worth. Doing so will allow you to grow once more.]

“Ah. You’re giving me even more work.”

Seon-Hyeok was grumpy. All the dragon ever did during their communications was notify him of his next task.

Even if he never met the real dragon, his strength was already at a point where he could take care of himself. He did not need to struggle to prove his worth.

Nonetheless, he was greedy. He wanted to see for himself how great this dragon was that he could be ordered around to this extent.

“Fine. I’ll do it. After all, I want to tame all them anyway.”

Seon-Hyeok hid his innermost thoughts and readily accepted the dragon’s offer.

“But.”

However, there was a condition.

“Shouldn’t you show some appreciation that I’m going through all this trouble? It’s so unfair. I’ve had several close calls with death.”

[All rewards will be bestowed on that promised…]

“No IOUs.”

Considering how much he was being helped, Seon-Hyeok was certain the dragon also had something to gain from his development. He could not help but feel it shady that the dragon was hiding these circumstances and acting as though Seon-Hyeok was the one unilaterally benefitting from their relationship.

[The promises made between you and me cannot be undercut by such arbitrary standards. However, I will be understanding because you are human.]

It was as he anticipated. Considering he had already received the wind attribute as a gift, he figured the dragon would be open to negotiations, even if hesitatingly.

[Your wish will come true.]

“What?”

But there was a problem. The dragon promised a reward, but refused to tell him what it was. No, in fact, Seon-Hyeok did not even know when he would be receiving this compensation.

“Dragon?”

Considering that the dragon disappeared without so much as a farewell, it seemed as though Seon-Hyeok had overstepped some boundaries in making a sacred agreement more transactional.

“Ah, but you should’ve still said something.”

As always, the dragon was not particularly enjoyable to talk to.

In the end, Seon-Hyeok was not able to figure out what the dragon’s reward would be. However, he did not obsess over it.

Though the dragon maintained that he lacked qualifications, Seon-Hyeok had successfully endured arduous battles and built a brilliant resume with the strength he currently possessed. Under such circumstances, he did not need to desperately await an unknown reward.

What mattered now was not the dragon’s reward, but how he would deal with the Knights of the Azure Sky.

“B, bleh.”

Seon-Hyeok shook his head as he saw Aria Eisen folded over and retching.

“As I thought, is it too much?”

The fragile mage was able to withstand simple flight, but not the violent maneuvers intended for aerial combat. His hopes for keeping the griffin riders in check through magic became useless.

In the end, the only solution was to deal with them on his own.

Of course, it did not mean he lacked confidence.

Though the Knights of the Azure Sky and their griffins looked powerful, he did not think he or Redvern would lose. The only factor that bothered him was that he was at a numbers disadvantage.

“Hm…”

In the worst case scenario, he still did not think he would lose against the two of them so long as he had Atiya by his side. That said, he did not need to take unnecessary chances.

He seemed pretty arrogant…

Remembering how the knight had looked down on him in their last encounter, Seon-Hyeok thought that his opportunity might come easier than he anticipated.

As the Knights of the Azure Sky were treated as the best in the Griffindor Kingdom, it was clear that the knights would be proud – and he knew better than anyone how to deal with such arrogant, confident knights.

“Should I provoke him?”

He figured that poking at their pride would make them lose their sense of reason and rush in recklessly.

“I’ll be right back.”

Instead of holding onto him, Commander Mangsk suggested that Seon-Hyeok remain close enough that he could receive his allies’ support. Seon-Hyeok agreed before climbing onto Redvern.

“Ah…”

Seon-Hyeok sighed in resignation. Looking back, it was ridiculous how he had debated so much about how to provoke the griffin riders into single combat.

There was no reason to individually drag the Griffindor knights into battle. From the very beginning, they had no intention of using their numerical advantage.

“Gilbert Sylvain Lafayette. I’m the second ranked Knight of the Azure Sky.”

It seemed like they had been waiting for him to cross the front lines. As soon as he did, the griffin riders emerged to give him a leisurely greeting. They smiled, as though casually attending a picnic.

“Jean-Marie de Roland. It is nice to meet you.”

This was a stark contrast from their first meeting, when the knights had chased him like their lives had depended on it.”

“Ugh. Seon-Hyeok Rheinperle Kim Drachen…”

Considering how they greeted him, he thought it would be inappropriate to ignore them. They laughed when he reluctantly replied.

“You don’t have to be on edge. It’s true that we’re here under our royal family’s orders, but we have no intention of putting our lives on the line in a foreign conflict.”

Their words grew increasingly ridiculous.

“Then why the hell are you here…”

Seon-Hyeok had delayed his return to Rheinperle and remained on the front lines solely to deal with these griffin riders. He was bewildered at their cordial attitude.

“Well, let’s say we’re here to see who is most deserving of the title, ‘Knight of the Azure Sky’.”

“Ah…”

It was only then that Seon-Hyeok understood their demeanor.

“So you’re asking for a duel?”

“You’re correct.”

Surprisingly, they had come into the middle of a war to ask for a duel.

These crazy bastards…

Seon-Hyeok swore.

Even if these knights were coddled by the royal family, they were crossing a line. He could not believe that they would leisurely challenge someone to a duel on a battlefield where hundreds, no thousands, of soldiers lost their lives.

“By any chance, do you think that this place isn’t worthy of a duel?”

Lafayette, the red-haired knight, misunderstood Seon-Hyeok’s rigid expression as he asked. Seon-Hyeok kept his mouth shut – the question was not worth answering.

“It’d be nice if we could set up an arena for our duel, but you and I are both treasured individuals within our kingdoms. When else would we have such a chance to duel? In addition, isn’t it romantic that the vast sky will be our battlefield?”

Knight Roland, seemingly in agreement, nodded at Lafayette’s long-winded words.

Crazy. These crazy bastards.

He did not understand how people could ever look for romantic ideals and dignity on the battlefield.

“The vast sky will be a sacred battlefield where none can interfere, and the countless soldiers looking up at us from down below will be the witnesses to our duel.”

Seon-Hyeok had no reason to listen any longer.

“Is that the only reason you’re here?”

Roland responded.

“If you lose, come with us to Griffindor.”

“And if I refuse?”

At Seon-Hyeok’s curt response, Roland and Lafayette finally showed an expression befitting a conflict.

“Then we’ll have to take the wyvern by force.”

Looking at the knights baring their teeth, Seon-Hyeok was able to grasp the real purpose behind their desire for a duel.

“Then what will you do if I win?”

“That won’t happen, but if we lose, we’ll accept whatever conditions you have for us.”

Seon-Hyeok stared coldly at the knights treating him as if he were no match for them.

“Ah. You really are arrogant.”

He had no desire to play along with these insane knights.

“Arrogant? I don’t think that’s something you can say, considering how you fled from us like that just a few days ago.”

The warm, cordial atmosphere vanished, and the ugly hostility hidden behind their good manners took its place.

“I, Jean-Marie de Roland of Griffindor, challenge Adenburg’s Drachen to a duel.”

When Roland came forwards, Lafayette retreated. As they had said, it seemed they were intent on single combat.

“Don’t worry. Like I said, I’m not here to gang up on you.”

“How kind.”

After the cold retort, Seon-Hyeok looked down at the ground far below. He could see countless soldiers looking up at them, but nobody of note.

Just as Lafayette claimed, the sky was now a battlefield for riders where none could interfere.

“Ah…”

Seon-Hyeok sighed as he grabbed his lance. He had no reason to refuse their offer of single combat.

Click.

Roland lowered the visor of his eagle-head helmet and drew his longsword, which reached nearly two meters in length. In an instant, multicolored sword energy gathered at his weapon, and Roland held up the imbued blade.

Whoosh.

And as though he was performing a ritual, the knight swung his sword a few times before bringing it in front of his chest.

Crazy.

However, Seon-Hyeok lowered his own visor without a word and fixed his lance under his arm.

“Then let’s begin…”

“Wind Piercing.”

Before his opponent could even finish speaking, Seon-Hyeok recited his incantation of victory.

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