Episode 133. Dragon Fear (2)

“How long has it been?!”

When Seon-Hyeok crossed the plains showing the signs of spring and finally returned home, Rheinperle seemed drastically different. The modest estate, originally designed for efficiency, had been expanded and looked its part, while the sprawling village had developed beyond belief.

However, there was something that remained the same. It was the welcoming faces of those waiting to greet him.

“My lord!”

Julian, her white cheeks red either out of cold or happiness, shouted as she ran up to him.

“Julian. It’s been a while.”

Strangely, the young squire running up to him as soon as he dismounted from Redvern had not grown at all. It almost looked as though time had frozen still, but this made him even happier to see her.

“Congratulations on your safe return!”

Clark shouted out a moment later, and the cavalry and soldiers likewise cheered and welcomed their lord’s return.

“Sir Trail. You’ve done a fantastic job while I was gone.”

Rumors of Rheinperle successfully repelling the infiltrating knights had already spread across the kingdom and even reached him on the front lines. These developments were all thanks to the senior knight, Asha Trail.

“I was just faithful to my duties. There is nothing to thank me for.”

Seon-Hyeok found himself laughing at the knight’s ever-constant attitude. Asha Trail’s expressionless face also showed the slightest hint of a smile.

“But why are you out here in the cold? How did you know I’d return today?”

“Goldrake has been restless since this morning…”

Come to think of it, Goldrake was intently staring at him from a little further away, its hot breath visible in the cold air.

“Goldie.”

When Seon-Hyeok reached out with a smile, the house-sized monster came running towards him like a little puppy.

Shriek!

However, when Seon-Hyeok started petting Goldrake’s big head, Redvern began to show signs of agitation. The wyvern’s shrieks were sharp and piercing.

Growl.

Goldrake stopped lazily enjoying the attention and threateningly growled at the wyvern.

In the past, Redvern would have recalled its poor showing against the drake and backed off. Now, having grown on the battlefield, the wyvern refused to stand down.

Shriek!

As if to challenge the drake, Redvern spread its enlarged wings wide and glared threateningly. It shook its neck, preparing to shoot its green poison at a moment’s notice.

“Stop it!”

Seon-Hyeok commanded the beast in a low voice, concerned that this pleasant reunion would be ruined if left alone. Unfortunately, the dim-witted Redvern caused a scene.

Chomp.

Before he could act, Redvern rushed in and bit into Goldrake’s neck.

“Hey!”

Seon-Hyeok panicked and tried to restrain Redvern, but the two monsters refused to listen.

Roar!

Goldrake violently shook off the wyvern stuck onto its neck.

Shriek!

Redvern shrieked as it fell away, and Goldrake jumped at the opportunity.          

Shriek! Ptui!

The wyvern unleashed its deadly poison to keep Goldrake in check, but the powerful beast ignored it and trampled forward.

Taken aback by the reckless charge, Redvern flapped its wings and tried to rise, but it was too late.

Goldrake bit down on Redvern’s hind leg and slammed the wyvern against the ground.

Whimper.

Crushed by the golden monster, Redvern weakly exhaled and looked towards its owner. Seon-Hyeok found himself shaking his head as he watched the wyvern’s pitiful eyes.

“You idiot. If you really wanted to fight, you should’ve attacked from the air. Who do you think you are, charging against him on the ground?”

There were no signs that Redvern’s nasty temper and stupidity could be fixed.

The wyvern might have undergone two metamorphoses, but Goldrake continued to be significantly ahead in terms of strength and vitality. The disparity was clearly evident in their stats, and the only areas in which Redvern was ahead were its wings and agility. It would have been a huge upset if Redvern emerged victorious.

“Goldie, let it go. Redvern won’t do it again.”

Goldrake continued to look angry, but it obeyed. Whether it was because of the higher obedience stat or inherent differences in personality, Goldrake was much more reliable than Redvern.

Growl.

The drake approached and put its head close – there was not a single damaged scale on its body. Redvern’s powerful poison, capable of melting even the griffins’ tough hides, was completely ineffective.

“Goldrake really is your natural enemy.”

Seon-Hyeok sighed, realizing their gap was beyond what the stats indicated.

“You’ll be leaving right away?”

Julian frowned when Seon-Hyeok immediately voiced his intention to leave for the capital.

“I have to make a trip there anyways, so better sooner than later.”

He had stayed on the front lines for too long, and all he wanted was to rest. However, until he took care of business at the capital, he would not be truly free.

It was preferable to quickly address his obligations instead of procrastinating.

“I’ll have to receive what I’m owed and give them what I need to. Only then will I be able to rest in peace.”

“That’s true, but…”

Julian visibly showed her disappointment. She had become much more expressive during the time he was away.

“May I go as well?”

“You too, Sir Trail?”

Though unexpected, there was no reason for him to refuse. Seon-Hyeok readily agreed, and Julian stubbornly insisted on tagging along.

“Fine, okay. You can come too, Julian.”

He relented, figuring he had nothing to lose by taking his squire with him.

“I’ll get ready to leave right away!”

“I’m planning to take a day or two before leaving, so there’s no need to rush.”

Julian rushed out as though she did not hear him. It looked like she was worried about being left behind once again.

“She seemed mature beyond her years when we first met, but it feels like she’s getting younger.”

Of course, that did not mean Julian was any worse at completing her duties. If anything, Seon-Hyeok preferred her brighter demeanor now.

“On that note, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“What is it?”

He immediately straightened up when he heard Asha Trail’s ominous tone.

“It’s about Squire Julian.”

The knight looked out the door to ensure nobody was listening before whispering.

“She isn’t growing.”

“Ah, you surprised me. People her age go through growth spurts. I’m sure she’ll grow when it’s time.”

Asha Trail shook her head at his nonchalant response.

“It’s not that minor of an issue.”

She expressed her concerns that Julian’s unchanging height and body were unusual.

“She hasn’t grown a single centimeter over the past year.”

Normally, Seon-Hyeok would have thought little of this, but his heart suddenly sank.

He recalled how Julian had suffered from the sea serpent’s poison during their journey in Rugenburg.

‘Too much time has passed. You should be prepared for the aftereffects.’

‘There could be lasting physical effects or even slight madness. It’s also possible that her personality will change. In any case, things will be quite different from before her poisoning.’

At the time, the mage employed by Baron Rugenburg had repeatedly warned him about potential aftereffects.

However, Julian had miraculously recovered and showed no signs of side effects afterwards. Naturally, Seon-Hyeok had forgotten about this until now.

‘However, there might be negative developments in the future, and we’ll just have to wait and see for the time being.’

Seon-Hyeok recalled these old warnings as he listened to Asha Trail.

“It can’t be…”

“Do you have something in mind?”

Seon-Hyeok revealed what Julian had gone through, and when she heard the whole story, the knight looked depressed.

“It seems those aftereffects impacted Squire Julian’s growth.”

Asha Trail showed genuine regret over the misfortune that befell such a talented knight candidate.

“We’ll have to go to the capital. If Julian’s stunted growth truly is an aftereffect of the poison, we’ll have to ask the Royal Mages to treat her.”

It would be a terrible fate for her to eternally live as a child because of his actions. He vowed to have her healed at all costs.

“I hope the wise wizards at the capital know how to cure her.”

“I hope so too.”

The conversation trailed off once they agreed to search for a treatment. However, Asha Trail did not leave.

“Sir Trail, is there something else you wanted?”

Hearing his question, Asha Trail hesitated for a moment before speaking.

“It’s not something to ask a lord who only just returned, but…”

After mumbling for a moment, she composed herself and looked straight at him.

“Will you please spar with me?”

“Why all of a sudden…”

Seon-Hyeok was confused why she would ask for this out of the blue, but she explained she wanted to check his abilities before leaving for the capital.

“War is the harshest teacher for a knight.”

It was clear she was curious about how much he had grown while making his countless battlefield accomplishments.

“Well, that won’t be difficult.”

He likewise wanted to try his skills against her once again. Aside from his one confrontation with Marquis Reinhardt, his training with Asha Trail was the first and last time he had tasted defeat.

Once they reached an agreement, there was no need to delay.

Having just returned from the front lines, Seon-Hyeok had yet to take off his armor, and Asha Trail, as a proud knight, preferred armor over everyday clothes. As such, they could ignore all of the preparations for a duel and simply head to an empty training ground with their weapons.

“You should be careful. It’ll be different from before.”

In response, Asha Trail brought forth her brilliant sword energy.

“I haven’t been playing around either.”

She was not bluffing. The energy covering her sword was far more dazzling than before. It was unlike anything he had seen in battle against the Noctein knights.

“Hm.”

Seon-Hyeok’s confidence took a hit as he tensed up.

As he did, wind forcefully gathered to the tip of his spear. This process now felt as natural as breathing.

“Whew. Then should we get started?”

Seon-Hyeok took a deep breath and positioned his lance as he felt the energy surrounding his entire body.

Whoosh.

At that moment, the tension broke.

It was his first time using Dragon Fear on another human.

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