Episode 182. The Dark Lord’s Domain (2)

The central kingdoms finally began to mobilize after aloofly watching the western situation.

They gathered fast-footed cavalry and individuals specialized in searching to create scouting parties and sent them to uncover the true situation in the west. With that, they waited. Three days passed, then four, and finally ten.

No matter how long they waited, none of the individuals sent west returned.

The kingdoms recruited new scouts.

This time, the scouting party sent west contained even more talented individuals. Among them were even knights and mages, the true measures of a kingdom’s strength.

Though they were the lower-ranked mages and rank-and-file knights, they were superhuman beings nonetheless.

Nobody doubted that this new group would return with the whereabouts of their missing predecessors and news about the west.

However, it did not take long for this faith to be crushed.

The mages had taken a large number of communications stones, but after an initial message stating they arrived in the west, communications were cut off once again.

They had lost their superhuman individuals in vain, but they did get something out of this effort.

‘Drachen was correct.’

The last message sent by one of the lost scouting parties was brief, but it was enough for the eastern and central kingdoms to understand the seriousness of the situation.

“Why has the predicament in the west been unknown until now!”

“Are the central kingdoms bordering the west trustworthy? If they were not intentionally deceiving us, could the situation in the west be unknown to this extent?”

The eastern kingdoms harshly criticized the central kingdoms and insisted they engage in more active reconnaissance. Some of the more belligerent kingdoms even began to stage armed demonstrations by moving their forces along the border.

“The central kingdoms must prove their innocence!”

The central kingdoms had been preoccupied with the demons within their borders to actively scout the western situation to this point. They were unable to withstand the pressure placed upon them and finally decided to mobilize their troops.

Before long, a large expedition force consisting of an infantry regiment and a cavalry company crossed the borders into the western part of the continent.

And soon, they reached the land of the dead mentioned by Drachen.

“This is ridiculous…”

The soldiers grew terrified at the dreary, purple sky, and they were completely overwhelmed by the ominous energy rising from the ground.

“We continue forward. This isn’t enough to confidently say that all of the western kingdoms have collapsed.”

The commanders encouraged the frightened soldiers and continued the march.

There was nothing easy about this western expedition.

The soldiers who drank from the contaminated river began to suffer from an unidentifiable disease, and the seemingly healthy suffered from terrible nightmares each night as they showed signs of madness.

Nonetheless, the commanders urged the force on.

And finally, they reached the main base of the western kingdoms.

“Ah…”

Collapsed fortresses. Cities in ruins. Empty barracks. There were no signs of life anywhere.

It was almost as though the native inhabitants had disappeared into thin air. The commanders of the expedition began to debate whether to search for the missing people or to return satisfied after completing their desired objective.

The answer was as good as decided.

Insufficient drinking water, unknown illnesses, and signs of madness in the soldiers. Any additional progress was unreasonable. They decided that successfully scouting the territory was enough of an achievement as they turned around.

“We’re heading back.”

The commanders carefully selected by the central kingdoms did not forget that their predecessors had gone missing.

The return journey was not easy. The thirsty and exhausted soldiers plodded along with heavy footsteps, while the soldiers suffering from madness threatened to break down military discipline.

They desperately hoped to escape this hellish landscape in the west.

However, the real hell was only just beginning.

It was about a day after deciding to turn back that they realized this horrific reality.

The first victims were the soldiers trudging along in exhaustion.

“Hm?”

Hundreds, no, thousands, of hands suddenly rose up from the ground and grabbed at the soldiers’ ankles.

“Ack!”

The procession broke down in an instant. Something foul began to jump on the soldiers in disarray.

“S, save me!”

Screams rose up from all over. The unidentified objects attacking the soldiers began to bite them and tear them apart with reckless abandon.

Guhhhh.

The beings coming out of the blackened soil surprisingly resembled humans. The only differences were in their half-rotting bodies and extended green nails.

The commanders and mages were stunned as they identified the assailants.

“U, undead…”

It was then that they realized where the missing western civilians had disappeared to. The price for this discovery was the blood and bodies of countless soldiers.

“Find solid ground and re-form ranks!”

The wise and experienced commanders worked to find an optimal response, and the mages and knights likewise played their roles in the conflict.

They located the undead tangled among the soldiers and destroyed them. Their performance in the battle was remarkable and befitting their status as the true firepower of a kingdom.

The undead were torn apart by sword energy and burned with magic.

The chaos was barely alleviated with time. However, despite their best efforts, the casualties were enormous. In that brief span of time, more than half of the troops had been lost, and a significant portion of the cavalry had lost their horses. The force’s combat strength had dropped catastrophically.

Even more undead and monsters attacked this weakened army.

But despite this, the soldiers did not give up hope. Their superhuman forces were still alive, and their commanders remained calm.

This lingering hope was shattered three days into their return journey.

A massive tentacle protruding from the ground crushed the bodies of the mages. The knights quickly stepped forward to defeat the monster, but it was too late. The mages had already perished.

Having lost the mages’ support, the knights pushed themselves to their limits.

“You have to return alive and spread the truth.”

The commanders made their difficult decision. They decided that even the exhausted knights would be sacrificed at this rate, and instead, the knights and cavalry would be better served separately returning to their homeland.

In the absence of these superhuman beings, the expedition force was annihilated within a single day.

The locations in which the troops suffered varied, but the situation remained eerily consistent.

“We cannot let their sacrifices be in vain.”

The small groups of people involved in the desperate escape rode east, but even this journey proved to be anything but easy.

As they approached the border, stronger and stronger enemies blocked their way. The knights more than demonstrated why they were considered superhuman beings, but despite this, it was impossible to escape this hell through their strength alone.

In the end, the majority of the survivors were wiped out.

Only a few lucky individuals were given the chance to see a clear blue sky once again.

Combined, the eight kingdoms bordering the west had sent nearly 20,000 troops across the border, but only 40 returned.

Even those fortunate to return began to show illness soon after and perished. The mages explained their passing was due to overexposure to demonic energy.

“We have confirmed that the west has fallen into the hands of the Dark Lord.”

All of the survivors died, but their sacrifice ensured that the situation in the west was revealed in detail to the neighboring kingdoms.

“This is no longer just a problem for the western kingdoms.”

“We will use all of our strength to drive out the demons within our borders, then close the borders.”

The central kingdoms treated the situation in the west as a continental crisis as they vowed to join forces.

It was at this moment that a great alliance was formed between the various central kingdoms.

In response, the eastern kingdoms announced their willingness to provide maximum support to the central kingdoms. They realized that after the western and central kingdoms, they would be the next to fall.

“We need support from the Holy Kingdom.”

“Will Astoria continue with its petty in-house fights in this dire situation?”

The kingdoms recalled a time from the distant past when these holy figures fought against evil and eventually emerged victorious. They insisted that the Astoria Kingdom cease its power struggle and focus on the greater issues of the continent.

The archbishops of Astoria belatedly realized the seriousness of the situation and formed a temporary truce, ending their internal battles.

“A fight against the Dark Lord’s armies is a fight against demonic energy.”

“Those becoming addicted to the demonic energy will either die as it permeates into their bones, or they will descend into madness and lust for blood.”

The old records kept in the holy temples were released at once, and it became known that the collapse of the western kingdoms was not because of the Dark Lord’s forces, but rather because of the energy he brought into this world.

“Resisting the demonic energy is only possible through faith and the blessings of God.”

The Holy Kingdom suggested that divine power was the only means of expelling demonic energy, and they proved this by immediately sweeping away all of the demonic beasts within their borders.

In this sense, it was natural that the Holy Kingdom was then appointed as the leading seat of the Central Alliance.

“Those who have devoted themselves to all that is holy. I declare a Holy War as of today, so dedicate your life and death to the one and only God.”

The Holy Kingdom announced a Holy War against the scourge of the west. Astoria had previously announced the same during the demonic beasts’ rampage, but their declaration now carried far more weight.

Their statement now was not a vain cry towards the world at large, but rather an absolute command to bring together the priests scattered throughout the continent.

The Holy War against the Dark Lord had fully begun.

As the clouds of war grew thicker, the kingdoms began to wonder about a certain someone’s whereabouts.

This individual was Drachen, the Indomitable Duke who revealed the perilous situation in the western kingdoms and subsequently headed west of his own volition.

However, there was no further news from Drachen, last seen leaving Granado to the west.

***

“Perhaps there was an accident…”

One of the nobles tactlessly spoke before shutting his mouth in surprise. However, it was too late to retract his statement, and his words reached the one it must not reach.

“Shut your mouth.”

Ophelia, the Queen Regent, had been leading this meeting with a stoic expression, but she immediately warned the noble with an icy glare.

“Please punish me for my carelessness.”

The noble prostrated himself and pleaded guilty as he was subjected to an anger never seen from the regent.

“The Indomitable Duke has never lost before, no matter how difficult his battles have been. Doubting his safety is no different from doubting the title of ‘Indomitable’ I have bestowed upon him.”

The nobles shut their mouths and lowered their heads at the sound of Ophelia’s icy voice.

The Queen Regent recently became much harder to address after news spread of Drachen’s journey to the hellish landscape of the west. A careless noble further poked at this figure today, and any additional recklessness could result in harsh retribution.

As the nobles remained silent, the meeting to determine the quantity and composition of troops to reinforce the Central Alliance quickly fizzled out.

“Whew.”

Left alone after the nobles’ departure, Ophelia’s expression quickly became pensive.

“Didn’t you promise to come back soon?”

She muttered helplessly as she clung onto a magically-delivered letter from a month ago.

‘The situation has become complicated, and I think it’ll be a while before I return.’

Ophelia sighed once again.

“Your Majesty!”

An urgent voice spoke out as Ophelia sat alone, lost in thought about her unreachable partner.

“Speak.”

As she re-assumed her expressionless facade and replied coldly, the servant opening the door bowed as he shouted.

“There has been news that the Indomitable Duke’s drake is running west from Rheinperle!”

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