Episode 176. The Cursed Land (1)

Hearing Ophelia’s advice, Seon-Hyeok found himself subconsciously adjusting his grip on the broken spear. Her expression and tone were far too serious to take lightly.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Even if she said she would be fine, Seon-Hyeok could not help but worry about his young wife. He found it difficult to walk away.

“Hm…”

Seeing him hesitate despite wanting to leave right away, Ophelia suddenly raised her hand.

Tap.

At the small gesture, the Royal Guard encircled the area as though given a direct command before raising the hems of their capes with their backs shown.

Swish.

A red curtain rose up in an instant. Within this safe haven, the young wife approached and embraced him.

“Ah…”

“I hope it doesn’t take too long.”

Seon-Hyeok was only taken aback for a moment. He soon raised his aimlessly hanging arms and embraced her back.

“Don’t get hurt. Don’t get sick. And…”

Ophelia whispered quietly in his embrace.

“Don’t let your eyes wander.”

After saying his farewells to Ophelia, a servant waiting at the scene approached to speak.         

“This way.”

“Can you wait a moment? There are people I need to say farewell to.”

As he had visited his wife first, Seon-Hyeok did not have the opportunity to say goodbye to any of his companions. The servant quietly acknowledged his response before stepping away.

“My lord.”

Perhaps they had been given advance notice of his imminent departure. His companions from Rheinperle were all gathered together and waiting for their lord.

“I have to travel far away for a while.”

“We have to wait again, don’t we?”

Clark asked with a voice full of regret.

“I’m planning to get there right away on Redvern.”

“You know, anywhere else, we’d never hear that we’re too slow. It’s regrettable that we’re just a burden to you, my lord.”

Clark half-jokingly complained, saying that it hit at the pride of the blue-uniformed cavalry, once known as Adenburg Kingdom’s finest.

However, he soon smiled and joked that he would have to catch a wyvern for himself, while asking Seon-Hyeok to ensure that they could accompany him next time.

“I’ll make sure next time.”

After all, once this was over, he would not have any reason to travel far from the kingdom for the time being. Within the Adenburg Kingdom, there was no place these rugged cavalry riders could not follow.

“In that case, we’ll send you off, then head straight back to Rheinperle.”

Come to think of it, the riders looked prepared, as though they were ready to head out at a moment’s notice.

“In that case, take care of the territory while I’m away.”

“Leave it to us.”

Smiling at this reliable response, Seon-Hyeok turned to Julian and Asha Trail, who were standing off to the side listening to their conversation.

“I apologize for going off on my own so often after asking you to help me manage my territory.”

He truly felt sorry for bringing a promising member of the Royal Guard to a countryside territory, only for him to always be away on other matters.

“It’s nothing.”

As usual, Asha Trail plainly accepted his apology and offered her farewell.

“I hope you accomplish your goals and return safely.”

Having watched Seon-Hyeok exchange his goodbyes with the female knight, her mentor, Julian approached and tugged at his sleeve.

“Make sure to take me next time.”

“Okay. You’re light, so it won’t be any burden for Redvern to take you as well.”

Julian had become quite tearful of late, and Seon-Hyeok responded good-humoredly before getting ready to leave.

“Then until we meet again…”

“We wish you a safe return!”

Step.

The riders offered a disciplined salute, and both Asha Trail and Julian likewise put their hands on their chests to pay their respects.

“I will lead the way.”

A servant suddenly approached to lead Seon-Hyeok to a vacant area of the palace. When he arrived, he noticed two knights in colorful armor waiting for him.

“Oh. The Indomitable Duke.”

“It’s been a while.”

They were Lafayette and Roland, once Griffindor’s Knights of the Azure Sky, but now Royal Knights for House Adenstein. They were the escorts Ophelia promised out of consideration for the safety of her traveling spouse.

“Given your bright complexion, it seems like you’ve been well.”

“Our position’s been ambiguous, so we’ve been mostly lazing about and putting on weight.”

Lafayette voiced his satisfaction at the prospect of going on a long journey after being cooped up at the capital.

“Too much time has passed. Let’s get going right away.”

Seon-Hyeok immediately hopped on Redvern and rose up, worried he was wasting too much time exchanging pleasantries. After circling the palace a few times, he immediately headed west.

*** 

Traveling with the griffin riders was the definition of speed itself. In just three days, they were able to completely traverse the Adenburg territory, and it took less than 2 weeks to pass through the Noctein Kingdom.

Even this would have been much shorter had they not moved with caution to avoid any potential conflict. Seon-Hyeok and the griffin riders moved at a truly remarkable pace.

[The direction is correct, but I cannot know how much further there is to go.]

Seon-Hyeok let out a sigh at the fairy dragon’s words. He had hoped the dragon subspecies would be reasonably close by, but it was clear his wishes were in vain. At this rate, he wondered whether he would have to traverse the center of the continent and reach its west before Geheimnis could pinpoint their destination.

“We’ll take the lead from here!”

As they passed the Noctein Kingdom and entered Griffindor territory, Lafayette took the lead.

“We should avoid major cities and military strongholds as much as possible!”

As the Griffindor Kingdom boasted the sole aerial force on the continent prior to Drachen’s ascendance, it seemed they were naturally prepared to deal with air-based attacks. Seon-Hyeok wordlessly allowed Lafayette to lead the way upon hearing that all major locations within the Griffindor Kingdom had means of surveying the skies.

“Hm…”

As he flew behind Lafayette, he saw a horrific sight for the first time and groaned.

The endless land beneath them was blackened and emitting a terrible stench, as though rotting from the inside out.

“It seems this was where the demonic creature attacked.”

The tendrils of unsettling energy rising from the ground extended all the way into the skies. Exposed to this ominous, haze-like energy, the griffins showed their first signs of fatigue.

“Huh? Devon’s acting strange!”

Mionte isn’t in good shape either!”

Lafayette and Roland shouted out in surprise as the griffins cried out and floundered in the air.

“We have to land and check on their status…”

“Stop!”

Seon-Hyeok stopped the two riders trying to descend onto the ground.

[It’s demonic energy. You might be okay, but the other two will be mentally affected the moment they come in direct contact with it and unable to continue.]

“Wow, way to tell me ahead of time.”

Seon-Hyeok frowned at Geheimnis’ belated warning and examined the state of the griffins. Devon and Mionte were both struggling, and it would not have been strange had they both fallen from the skies.

It was not just the griffins.

As they continued towards the center, this unsettling energy intensified. Now, even Redvern began to groan and show signs of struggling.

At this rate, they would all be taken out of the skies before they could even reach the west.

“I’m taking the lead! Follow close behind!”

Seon-Hyeok summoned Atiya to help the three flying beasts.

‘Ugh, master. I don’t want to be here.’

In any normal situation, Atiya would have followed her master’s orders even at the cost of her own self. However, she cried out in a dying voice as soon as she was summoned.

“Please. Just hang in there a little bit.”

Seon-Hyeok grimaced as he saw that even Atiya was out of her comfort zone.

‘I can’t last long.’

“It just needs to be for a moment.”

Seon-Hyeok and the griffin riders were finally able to stop their descent with the help of the wind spirit.

“We’re getting out of here right now!”

Feeling his energy being consumed quickly through Atiya, Seon-Hyeok hurriedly led the two riders out of the cursed land.

“Whew.”

Only after flying far away from the black, rotting land did the demonic energy’s tortuous influence disappear. Seon-Hyeok and the griffin riders finally landed on the ground.

“I wonder what the hell that was.”

Lafayette asked, looking anxiously at the griffins sprawled on the ground as soon as they landed.

“Demonic energy. It is the energy of death emanating from land tainted by demons. It is a terrible curse that defiles the living and raises the dead.”

As they were busy escaping the influence of the demonic energy, Seon-Hyeok was able to get an explanation from Geheimnis. He, in turn, explained what he had heard to Lafayette and Roland, and their expressions immediately hardened.

“I heard they repelled it.”

Whether or not they turned their backs on their kingdom, the two griffin riders could not be at ease seeing their former homeland change in this horrific manner.

“They exterminated the first demonic beast, but I heard they continued to appear since then.”

[That’s why the Dark Lord’s army is so terrifying. Even if you can eradicate the demons, it is quite difficult to cleanse the land exposed to the demonic energy. Meanwhile, if left unchecked, land exposed to this energy will be completely corrupted. From the victim’s perspective, there is nothing to be gained from even winning against the Dark Lord.]

Only then did Seon-Hyeok realize why the superhuman beings of the Nordic Kingdom were unable to stop this one individual.

[From what I can tell, the land we just passed was quite tainted. I would assume all living beings within that territory have been corrupted by the demonic energy and are little more than lesser demonic beings themselves.]

“Tell me sooner next time.”        

[I felt it would be much better for you to see this with your own eyes.]

Her words made sense.

If he had not seen it with his own eyes, Seon-Hyeok would not have appreciated the danger presented by the demonic energy. They almost crashed into this cursed land, but this experience was an invaluable lesson.

“This is way beyond my expectations.”

Seon-Hyeok sighed as he saw Redvern gasping for breath with its tongue drooping.

It was not even as though he came face to face with the Dark Lord himself. All he experienced was the remnants of a creature that person summoned - and from far up in the sky.

That alone was nearly sufficient to knock out the two griffins and caused Redvern to struggle.

The riders were likewise in bad condition. They had been forced to focus and expend their mental fortitude in that brief period, and Seon-Hyeok likewise felt his insides churn.

However, his discomfort was founded more on intense hostility than pain.

[So what will you do? If she was in your position, she would never let this slide. No matter what anyone says, she is a being of light, and diametrically opposed to demonic energy.]

Seon-Hyeok realized the source of his rising hostility as he listened to Geheimnis’ explanation.

“I need time to think.”

He silenced the fairy dragon for a moment and was lost in thought.

The Knights of the Azure Sky repelled this?

The griffins had nearly fallen out of the skies, their energy drained despite not being in contact with the demonic energy. Seon-Hyeok could not understand how the other griffins fought the source of this energy and emerged victorious.

He asked Lafayette and Roland about the other knights’ skills. Hearing that they were comparable, Seon-Hyeok grew even more confused.

How did the Griffindor Kingdom beat this demonic energy?

[Lies.]

“What?”

Geheimnis spoke while looking in the direction of the tainted land.

[The demonic creature didn’t even die.]

Seon-Hyeok immediately understood what the fairy dragon was suggesting.

“So the liar from Griffindor spread false news.”

Clearly, the Griffindor king did not want to reveal his own weakness and announce that the disturbance within his borders still lingered. After all, for the kingdoms in the east, the Dark Lord was not a terrifying being requiring extermination through collaboration, but rather merely the head of a revolt in the northwest.

[What will you do? If you let it be, this land will be completely corrupted and unable to be purified. And once in place, the domain of the Dark Lord will continue to grow in strength. Perhaps even the kingdom of your beloved princess will be swept up in this energy.]

Of course, Geheimnis’ words were quite exaggerated. It was true their experience just now was terrifying, but Seon-Hyeok did not think that the real superhuman beings curled up in their kingdoms would be unable to overcome this crisis.

Rather, if they were incapable of doing so, there was no way he would fare any better.

“You. You want me to fight that demonic creature.”

Seon-Hyeok raised his eyebrows at the small creature encouraging him and spreading fear.

[If you head west, you will see things several times worse than this. If it’s unavoidable, better to experience the demonic energy relatively far away from the Dark Lord.]

“I get what you’re saying.”

It was a reasonable conclusion. He was headed to the western lands of the continent, where the army of the Dark Lord called home. It was clear he would come face to face with a demonic creature at least once during this journey.

In that case, it was not a bad idea to experience this force in Griffindor, relatively far from the Dark Lord’s influence, as Geheimnis suggested.

[And there’s something I forgot to tell you.]

“What is that?”

[Just as she and you are hostile to the demonic energy.]

Geheimnis’ mouth spread into a grin.

[The demonic creature will likewise be hostile to you.]

As soon as the fairy dragon spoke, a terrible roar was heard from afar.

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